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Peaches and screams with a topping of fun

James and the Giant Peach, Rugby Theatre, April 7 to 14

A child orphaned after an horrific accident, thrust into the care of abusive relatives before finding solace in the company of miscreants and ne'er do wells - not the plot of a Catherine Cookson bodice-ripper but Rugby Theatre's amazing new production of the Roald Dahl classic James and the Giant Peach.

Following the macabre death of his parents at the hands - or feet - of a stampeding rhinoceros, our hero James finds himself in the clutches of the psychopathic Aunt Sponge (Felicity Peck) and Aunt Spiker (Gill Pratt), two unlikely custodians who make Cruella de Ville look like Julie Andrews.

However in true Dahl fashion, James refuses to abandon hope and his patience is rewarded when rescue comes in the form of an enormous flying peach and its giant insect crew.

The show sparkled from start to finish, with particular stand-out performances from the angelic James (Jack Jones), Ladybird (Senga Veasey), who brought her character alive with the help of a delicious Pam Ayres burr, and morose pessimist Earthworm (Laura Hopwood) whose Northern Irish dialect was perfectly suited to the deadpan delivery of her lachrymose lines – no mean feat when clad in an unnervingly phallic earthworm costume, reminiscent of the giant pink Wicked Willy cartoons of the 80s.

Continuing the Carry On vibe, Emma-louise Marshall as Miss Spider, clad in showgirl lace and tassels, was the sexiest arachnid since…well, ever.

The real stars of the show, however, were undoubtedly the ingenious set designers, whose incredibly inventive props kept the energy levels as high as the seagulls which bore the peach to safety.

From the stampeding rhino, created with the help of a grey blanket and a horde of enthusiastic chorus members, to the shark attack scenes, in which giant inflatable Jaws balloons swam sinisterly above our seats, no opportunity was missed to create amazing special effects which elicited well-deserved oooohs and aaaahs from the audience.

Capping them all was the under the sea section, in which luminous umbrellas were transformed by magic into jellyfish, about which my two young companions excitedly raved all the way home. Unmissable might be a reviewer's cliché, but for this stellar version of James, the description is - arf – unimpeachable.

Box Office: 01788 541234

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