On Sunday afternoon, I headed out to see James and The Giant Peach at the Young People’s Theatre, and it was quite a stellar performance. From over-the-top props to creative effects to the wickedly talented actors, trust me, you’re going to want to see this!
The set and props throughout this show are incredible, like the gargantuan hollow peach in the middle of the stage, which is very cool because you can actually see the insects and James (Matt Nethersole) inside it throughout the show, instead of just having it be implied. Before the huge peach is revealed, what we see is a sickly peach tree. As it can’t grow any fruit, James’ evil aunts send him to hack it down and leave him to go to the beach. Just as James is about to chop it down, he is approached by a mysterious man (a very funny Bruce Dow) who gives him a book of potions. James makes one called “Alligator Tongues,” and it makes anything that eats it grow. He accidentally drops it in front of the peach tree, and when his aunts come back, they notice a small peach appear on the scraggly tree. It starts to get bigger and bigger, right before their eyes, and eventually, it turns into the massive peach of the story’s title.
The effects during this show are clever, and I was thoroughly impressed. These include a slow-spinning mechanism under the peach that makes it look like it is tumbling down a hill, sailing on the ocean, or flying through the sky. Each time it turns, you see the characters moving in it, changing body positions and using facial expressions. This makes for both dramatic and comical scenes. Slow-motion effects are used during some parts of the show, like when the aunts are high-fiving each other near the end of the play, at the same time as James and the insects are inside the moving peach. It is done well and hilarious.
The actors throughout this show never failed to impress me: having amazing cues, making use of the stage, and knowing when to over- or under-dramatize. The actors that play the insects – Bruce Dow as Centipede, Amir Haidar as Earthworm, Shruti Kothari as Spider, Robert Markus as Grasshopper, and Jennifer Villaverde as Ladybug – all do an amazing job, especially after turning human-sized. Matt Nethersole also does a terrific job in making everyone in the audience see the way that James’ aunts have affected him emotionally. James, while sad for part of the play, always has a light in him that moves the audience and eventually, the insects. His aunts, Spiker and Sponge, play off each other, both with their different personalities, yet the same cruel intention. Between the two, Spiker is the “idea person” and has a greedy edge to her, portrayed with creepy fun by Amaka Umeh. Sponge (Amy Lee) is the more bubbly one of the two, and has just as much of an interest in eating as making James’ life miserable.
A word about the costumes: they are highly stylized and not what you might expect insect costumes to be. Without paying attention to what the original hand puppets looked like, it can be a bit hard at first to tell what the insects are once they become human-size. In case you hadn’t paid attention to the insects as hand puppets, the insects later introduce themselves to James when they meet inside the peach. This reminds the audience who they are, which makes the costumes make more sense.
James and the Giant Peach is a warm story with something everyone can appreciate, and there are going to be many smiling children in the audience after seeing this production!
News You Can Use
What: James and the Giant Peach
- Words and music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul; book by Timothy Allen McDonald
- Based on the book James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
- Featuring Bruce Dow, Amir Haidar, Shruti Kothari, Amy Lee, Robert Markus, Matthew Nethersole, Amaka Umeh, Jennifer Villaverde
- Directed by Nina Lee Aquino; Musical Direction by Jason Jestadt; Choreography by Nicola Pantin; Set Design by Theresa Przyblyski; Costume Design by Joanna Yu
Who: Audiences 6 years of age and up
When: Onstage until March 18, 2017, with extra performances during March Break
- “Everyone’s a Critic” post-show Q & A with The Quotable Sayak: March 3, 10:15 AM
- Relaxed Performances: March 9, 1 PM and March 11, 2 PM
Where: Young People’s Theatre, Mainstage, 165 Front Street East, Toronto, ON
Information and Tickets: youngpeoplestheatre.ca or 416.862.2222
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© 2017 The Quotable Sayak, Sesaya