James And The Giant Peach
If I had a passion as a child, besides musicals, it was reading. I would spend hours escaping to the fantasy worlds created by Beatrix Potter, Enid Blyton, Lewis Carroll – and, of course, Roald Dahl. I therefore jumped at the opportunity to see Chesil Youth Theatre performers bring their adaptations of two classic Dahl stories to life.
Greeted by an open black stage, simply adorned by an array of chairs (all different to each other), I knew our imaginations would be needed to immerse us in the wonderful world of James And The Giant Peach and the magical environment of The Witches. It’s a brave move to stage a production in this fashion as there are no extravagant sets, lavish costumes or assortment of precise props to hide behind, relying instead on the audience’s imaginations as the cast provide the illustrations to Dahl’s words – and there are a lot of words, splendiferous words, to be learnt.
Both groups (Juniors aged 8 – 12 and Seniors aged 13 – 16) achieved this with style, enthusiasm and a great deal of fun, taking me right back to my childhood and evoking memories of wonder and delight at the characters that Roald Dahl created.
‘James’ is everything that I imagined the character to be, with her superb facial expressions and spot on comic timing (no typo, the character was portrayed delightfully by a young girl*). The range of very large insects are so entertaining, especially the very grumpy Earthworm, and the way they throw themselves into the roles without any inhibitions or hesitation, along with the narration of the Tour Guide, is charming and heart-warming.
Although Dahl is arguably best known as the author of children’s stories, despite his novels for adults, screenplays and poetry, I had forgotten quite how dark some of the tales could be. The senior group performed The Witches with just the right degree of edginess to bring his dark fantasy world to the stage, relishing the incantation to “Bish them, sqvish them, bash them, mash them!”, bringing out those dark undertones from the witches and embracing aspects of physical theatre with aplomb.
Sound effects and atmospheric lighting were used to great effect, sound effects being particularly well designed and perfectly timed to add just the right note of humour or suspense to the narrative, with excellent direction ensuring lovely characterizations, super storytelling and evidence of how well the group are learning their stage craft, creative performance skills and team work. Diction is essentially very clear and the pace is brisk; occasionally this is at such a breakneck speed where a weighted pause might enhance the effect more, but this in no way detracts from the performances, with the narrative flowing effortlessly from both groups.
It is a year almost to the day that I wrote, “These youngsters are diamonds in the rough who will, no doubt, continue to progress into accomplished performers as they continue to be carefully nurtured and develop their blossoming skills.” What is evidently clear twelve months later, is just how well the directorial team of Tom Humphreys and his student leader assistants, Alicia Edge and JB Black, have nurtured their proteges into confident and capable performers. Edge and Black graduate from University of Winchester this summer, but can move on to new ventures with the knowledge that they have indeed been “an integral part” of the growth of a very fine group of young performers.
I heard a young voice behind me say, on more than one occasion, “I love this”; I couldn’t agree more and I can’t wait to see what these talented young performers do next! From the well-deserved warm reception by the audience, I’m not the only one.
(*Cast names omitted at request of Chesil Theatre)