James and the Giant Peach
The Polka theatre is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary as London's only dedicated theatre for children. As a welcome alternative to the seasonal glut of pantomimes Roald Dahl's tale seems the perfect choice to mark this anniversary, its uplifting story of a small boy who finds salvation in an enchanted peach has all the ingredients that distinguish so many of Polka's shows: imagination, style and a dash of that ineffable magic that can entertain adults as well as children.
This current production is adapted from Dahl's book by David Wood who's notched up over sixty plays for children in the course of his career to date. The songs he's added often seem superfluous since the story works very well independently but presumably these musical interludes are intended to give the young audience light relief.
The eponymous hero James is a young orphan sent to live with his appalling aunts Spiker and Sponge ( Suzanne Robertson and Timothy Speyer in superb form) who exploit him mercilessly. But one day James meets a mysterious stranger and discovers the magical world of a giant peach which brings him new friends and an exciting journey across the ocean. It's a simple yet spectacularly effective story that inspires hope and has enough visual humour to enchant everyone.
As ever, the Polka's come up trumps with its ingenious solutions to the presentation of a giant peach, often drawing on physical audience participation to speed the magic fruit on its journey Stateside. Of James himself Wood says ' Dahl's heroes and heroines are often underdogs and their triumph against adversity is heart-warming and satisfying.' Director Roman Stefanski has crafted a winning concoction of comedy and pathos that's performed with great zest by an excellent cast led by a credibly boyish Saikat Ahamed as the courageous James.