James and the Giant Peach

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

08/08/2008 - 30/08/2008

Production Details

From the team who brought you The Twits don’t miss Roald Dahl’s story of James, a lonely young boy who lives with Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker, two of the most revolting aunts in the history of revolting relatives (and two of Dahl’s most delightfully horrible creations!). They make James work and clean all the time and never let him play with other children. Then one day an accident with a bag full of magic near an old peach tree makes some truly incredible things start to happen!

A Giant Peach grows and inside James meets his insect friends – a friendly spider, an egocentric centipede, a fashionista ladybird, a wise old grasshopper and a cantankerous earthworm. Together they embark on the adventure of a lifetime aboard the Giant Peach.

Family friendly performance times:
Tuesday 6pm
Wednesday to Saturday 6.30pm
Sunday 4pm
School matinees: 11am each Wednesday of the run

Adult $29.50
Senior: $27.00
Friends of the Fortune $24.50 (previous Members’ Society)
Groups of 10+ adults $25.00 (Group organiser comes as our guest)
University Students: $19.50
School Groups: 10+ $13.50 per student (Teachers are free with every 10 students)

Adults $25.00
Children: $12.50*
*When booked as a family group of 2 adults and 2 children
For all booking details call (03) 477 8323 or visit us online

Hadley Taylor:  James
Mark Neilson:  Aunt Sponge, Tour Guide, Shark, Octopus,            Mr Trotter, Captain, Fireman, Little Girl
Jodie Bate:  Miss Spider, Number 2, Cameraman, Rhino
Melanie Inglis:  Lady Bird, Mrs Trotter
Danny Still:  Grasshopper, Number 1, News Reporter
Kris Bate:  Centipede, Aunt Spiker
David Goldthorpe:  Earthworm, Old Man

Peter King:  Set Design
Maryanne Wright-Smyth:  Costume Design
Alan Surgener:  Lighting Design
Laura Cooney:  Sound Design          

Brendan van den Berg:  Assistant Director
Alan Surgener:  Production Manager
Brendan van den Berg:  Stage Manager
Matt Best, Peter King:  Set Construction
Alan Surgener:  Lighting Operator
David Good:  Lighting Support
Rebekah Sherratt:  Sound Operator
Elizabeth Webster:  Props
Brendan van den Berg:  Props
Rebekah Sherratt:  Props
Elizabeth Webster:  Mechanist
Brendan van den Berg :  Mechanist
Sandra Stierle:  Mechanist
Marti Rowe:  Graphic Design
Quentin Blake:  Cover Illustration
Matt Best:  Centerfold Photography

Fantastical magic and charm

Review by Terry MacTavish 11th Aug 2008

"Set young imaginations alight with the magic of theatre!" the Fortune promises, and indeed delivers, with this, its third Roald Dahl adaptation. On opening night it was snowing outside, but nothing could be warmer than the atmosphere inside the theatre, the auditorium humming with excited children clambering across the seats to make new friends, and the stage bubbling with marvellous fantasy characters in gorgeous costumes, while the fabulous giant peach positively glows.

Experienced director Laura Cooney was responsible for last year’s The Twits and many of the actors and backstage crew were also involved, which may partly explain the joyous confidence of this polished production.

You should really ask one of the species to whom you are a giant to tell you the story but what the heck, here goes.

James is orphaned at an early age by a typical Dahl freak accident: his parents are devoured by a rampaging rhinoceros. James is obliged to live with his two horrid aunts, fat Aunt Sponge and skinny Aunt Spiker, who rip up his teddy, ban his books ("they only give you ideas"), and turn him into a drudge.

A mysterious old man, with the best beard since Gandalf, gives him a bag of magic, which James unfortunately spills by a peach tree. However, this causes the tree to grow a simply enormous peach, which the evil aunts then exploit for money.

Shut out of the house, James crawls into the peach to find friends waiting for him – five bugs and worms who have grown to human size. Together they set the peach free, rolling over the aunts to the sea, and embarking on a voyage of escape to the golden world of America.

Much is required of the set, and the peach in particular. Thanks to Peter King and his team, it’s a beauty, taking up most of the stage, crafted out of dacron for a luscious softness and painted in luminous shades of sunset. There are gasps of pleasure as the stage spins to reveal the two-storied interior with its colourful insect crew.  Their costumes, created by Maryanne Wright-Smyth, are charming, especially those of the pretty red ladybird, and the green grasshopper with wings that really rotate!

Magic also demands tricky lighting and special effects, and these were generously provided, from marvellous seagulls swooping overhead, eventually towing the peach to safety, to an evocative underwater scene with fish swimming through swaying seaweed.

When a news reporter bounces into the audience to ask the kids for their impressions of the giant peach, they are filmed, appearing on a big on-stage screen, to their great excitement.

Sadly the music isn’t live, and in fact the songs aren’t especially memorable, but the skills and ebullience of the cast compensate.

Cooney has a dream-team of actors here: each in their own right is extraordinarily accomplished in the demanding realm of children’s theatre, and their combined expertise succeeds in creating an irresistibly exuberant atmosphere.

Mark Neilson is tremendous in eight parts, from a shark on roller skates to a mean bearded Aunt Sponge, eliciting squeals of delighted terror. Kris Bate plays Aunt Spiker with swivelling hips and Mick Jagger lips, then transforms convincingly to a chatty Centipede, hung about with shoes.

Indeed the actors have endowed each insect with well-defined characteristics, from David Goldthorpe’s mournfully pessimistic Earthworm to Danny Still’s Grasshopper, who comes across as an elegant old Thespian. Equally delightful, and dancing up a storm, are the vibrant Jodie Bate as a modest but wise Miss Spider, and Melanie Inglis as an adorably cute Ladybird.

James himself, as played by Hadley Taylor, has gangly charm, with well-brushed hair, argyle sweater and white socks pulled up neatly. It is a pleasure to note the engaging stage presence and good vocal projection of this young actor.

I suppose the reason I prefer the Fortune’s winter productions of Roald Dahl, to its summer pantomimes, is that the stories have more to offer, presented as they are with real commitment. Dahl’s plot may be fantastical but the values are solid – this is, after all, the old folkloric tale of a group of social outcasts who, once accepted, find they each have some talent to contribute that will help save the day for their friends.

It is to be hoped as many Dunedin children as possible will escape winter to share the exhilarating creativity of a team that seems to exemplify this uplifting theme. Oh, except for the bit about being social rejects…


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