What happens when you take a classic children’s story, throw in some 1960s grooviness a la Austin Powers (but without the innuendo), and add a twist of James Bond? You get Imagination Stage’s latest production of James and the Giant Peach, a skillfully done performance that integrates throwbacks to a different era that entertain children and adults alike.
Roald Dahl’s beloved chapter book about an orphan who travels across the Atlantic with super sized bugs on a giant flying peach comes alive in this 90 minute adaptation. While the story is similar, Imagination Stage audiences are introduced to James as he recalls his travels for a movie being filmed about his life.
While the story stays true to Dahl’s story, elements of Imagination Stage’s production design and direction draw inspiration from 1960s England, the same decade in which the book was written. The most obvious connections to be enjoyed by parents are evident in James’ giant bug companions. Children will enjoy the colorful rock and roll characters of Spider, Earthworm, Green Grasshopper, Ladybug, and Centipede while grown ups will recognize some similarities to the The Avengers, Beatles, Twiggy, Mick Jagger, as well as many references to characters in Bond films.
The production skillfully integrates the use of puppetry throughout the performance including a rhinoceros, giant squid, and seagulls that carry the peach. A video backdrop is used in certain scenes to add an animated quality to the live performance. Fans of Monty Python’s Flying Circus will recognize the stop motion animation style that is used to shift from once setting to the next.
Imagination Stage’s James and the Giant Peach is an entertaining family show. If you’re planning to attend between now and May 26, you don’t necessarily have to be familiar with the story ahead of time but parents should be aware that James’ parents die and he is sent to live with two very wicked aunts- Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge- who are played by Joe Brack and Phillip Reid who do a fantastic job dressed as women. Chances are children might not notice by watching the performance but astute kids who enjoy reading programs might notice that men play these two female roles. Also, for those who sit close to the aisle, there are a couple of occasions where performers come through the aisles to the stage. Younger children will appreciate the intermission halfway through the show where there’s ample time to use the bathroom and have a snack in the lobby.
Just as with Anime Momotaro, Imagination Stage’s last performance, James and the Giant Peach transports kids to a different period of time in another country. Here are four ways they can learn more after the show:
- Learn more about author Roald Dahl and read his other books. Dahl wrote 17 stories for children, 10 of which have been adapted for stage and screen. Other titles include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Danny, the Champion of the World, The Enormous Crocodile, The Twits, George’s Marvellous Medicine, The Witches, and Matilda. Interesting factoid for parents— The fact that young hero, James, has James Bond-esque theme music may seem strange except for the fact that Dahl and Bond did have a close connection. Ian Fleming, author of the Bond books, convinced the producers of You Only Live Twice to let Dahl write the screenplay, which became the first really modern Bond movie.
- Have a conversation about physics. Would it really have been possible for a flock of seagulls to lift the giant peach? The peach pit was big enough for James and his giant bug friends to live in! A group of physics students from Leicester University in the United Kingdom used aerodynamic modeling to determine that 2,425,907 seagulls would have been needed to lift the peach. To learn more about the Leicester University students’ research related to the seagulls and James and the Giant Peach, visit Popsci.com.
- Learn more about England. Look at a map of the world to understand where England is. Time for Kids has wonderful resources for elementary aged students such as this interactive map that can be used to tour through the most popular sites in England. Kids can also get a sense of what a typical day is like for a 10 year old girl who lives in the UK through Day in the Life: England. While we make speak the same language, we don’t always use the same word for the same things. Children will enjoy England: Native Lingo for a few examples of different words used to say the same things. As a bonus, kids can hear the British pronunciation!
James and the Giant Peach is playing at Imagination Stage in Bethesda with performances until May 26, 2013. Tickets are $12 to $25 and may be purchased online, in person at the box office, or via phone at 301-280-1660. Imagination Stage recommends the show for ages 4-10.
- Public performances on Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., select Saturdays at 11 a.m.
- Special Friday night performance on May 17 at 7 p.m.
- Tuesday-Friday field trip performances
- Children’s Ball fundraiser around the May 11th 4 p.m. performance. Tickets $75 individually or $250 for family pack of four.
- Sensory-friendly performance: May 12 at 11:00 a.m.
- ASL interpreted performance: April 21 at 4:00 p.m.
- $10 Preview tickets (applies to most seats) on April 6 at 1:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.
- April 14: Post-show workshop for kids and adults, $8/person
Imagination Stage provided me with tickets to attend James and the Giant Peach with my family but all opinions are my own. We have personally paid for past performances as Imagination Stage Subscribers. Amazon Affiliate links included in this post but books were personally purchased. Images by Margot Schulman courtesy of Imagination Stage.