Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

James and the Giant Peach
Raleigh Little Theatre
Review by Garrett Southerland


The Cast
Photo by Elspeth McClanahan
You may be familiar Roald Dahl's classic children's book "James and the Giant Peach," first published in 1961, and perhaps with the beautiful original illustrations by Nancy Ekholm Burkert. You might have seen the 1996 Disney-produced stop-motion animated film directed by Henry Selick. Raleigh Little Theatre has added to these a touch of Tim Burton and a heaping spoonful of steampunk, giving a fresh feel to Richard R. George's dramatization of this beloved story.

The story centers around James Trotter (a charismatic Michael McKenna), an orphan who goes to live with his repulsive aunts, Aunt Spiker, a delightfully irritating Laura Levine, and Aunt Sponge, an equally perfect Denise Penven-Crew. Similarly to the Cinderella storyline, James is treated terribly by his devilish aunts, until a mysterious stranger shows up and gives James a bag full of magical crocodile tongues which, when drunk with water, are supposed to bring James happiness and great adventure. By accident, James spills the bag onto a barren peach tree by the house, which causes it to grow a single, gigantic peach. James discovers a hole in the peach, which leads all the way to the pit, and there he meets a rag-tag group of talking, human-sized insects and worms. They become James' companions on a series of fantastic adventures as the peach rolls away from the misery of the aunts' house.

Rather than burden and conceal the actors with creature costumes, designer Jenny Mitchell has drawn on the steampunk aesthetic, with its historical but anachronistic elements, to create whimsical outfits that through color and detail evoke the qualities of each insect without obscuring the humanity of the actors, and all the better for it. The cast uses this freedom to develop each character through subtle stylistic choices, and they take advantage of every comedic moment the book gives them. Of the creature ensemble, standouts are Jonathan King's Grasshopper, Chris Brown's Earthworm, and Matthew Hurley's Centipede.

Director Kathleen Rudolph has assembled a creative team that makes the most of the brief (slightly over an hour) running time. Scenic and lighting design by Thomas Mauney is simplistic yet effective, making great use of the space. Scenes that would have been a challenge to stage are accomplished with animated projections that enhance the performance rather than feeling like shortcuts.

James and the Giant Peach, both in length and subject matter (at times a bit macabre in the book, but presented less alarmingly here), is ideal for young theatregoers, though the young at heart who loved this story as children will also find much to enjoy. Raleigh Little Theatre has found yet another perfect vehicle to introduce a younger generation to the wonders of live theatre.

James and the Giant Peach is presented by the Raleigh Little Theatre in the Cantey V. Sutton Theatre. 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, NC 27607 through April 30th, 2017. Tickets are $17 for adults and $11 for children (12 and under). Tickets can be purchased online at www.raleighlittletheatre.org or by phone at 919-821-3111.

Author: Roald Dahl
Dramatized by: Richard R. George
Direction: Kathleen Rudolph
Costume Design: Jenny Mitchell
Scenic and Lighting Design: Thomas Mauney
Sound Design: Brandon Scopel

Cast:
Narrator: David Snee
Aunt Sponge: Denise Penven-Crew
Aunt Spiker: Laura Levine
James Trotter: Michael McKenna
Grasshopper: Jonathan King
Centipede: Matthew Hurley
Spider: Caroline Farmer
Ladybug: Rebecca Leonard
Earthworm: Chris Brown
Glowworm: Grace Kelly
Ensemble: Molly Anglum, Dan Bain, Michelle Corbitt, Madeline Epstein Nelson, Sam Rutherford, David Thomas, Miana White, Noah Zimmerman


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