Theatre review: Insects take the bite out of sweet Peach

Armstrong's Asparagus Theatre presents the fun, and rather wacky, James and the Giant Peach.

It’s always a treat when young imaginations are allowed to roam to far-off places. So when I took my six-year-old daughter to see Asparagus Community Theatre’s latest offering –– a rather juicy staging of Roald Dahl’s now 50-year-old story, James and the Giant Peach, I wondered how she would fare.

It is a rather trippy tale, after all, with an abused young boy who finds solace, adventure and some unusual friends inside a giant –– you guessed it –– stone fruit.

It makes you wonder what Dahl, like Lewis Carroll before him, was smoking at the time when came up with this fantastical idea.

What became Dahl’s second foray into children’s literature, after 1943’s The Gremlins, James and the Giant Peach would three years later be usurped by a poor, sweet little kid named Charlie, who wins a golden ticket to enter Willy Wonka’s candy factory.

And just so no one is confused, the narrator of James and the Giant Peach (played in Asparagus’ version by the engaging Sue Gairns) does reference Dahl’s later work.

When the giant peach falls off the tree, squashing everyone and everything in its way, it rolls right through a “famous chocolate factory, with the word WONKA on the side of the building.” That was the way Dahl wrote it in his 1961 book, just in case anyone was thinking of scolding Asparagus for getting their dates wrong.

James has similar themes to Charlie.

It is centered around a poor child, James Henry Trotter (played here by the sweet-faced Tim Harder), left orphaned in the first scene when his parents (Rory White and Mandy Penner) are run over by a rhinoceros. (This is done tactfully using a giant screen to project the image of the rhino, with accompanying sound effects.)

Left in care of his horribly gruesome Aunt Sponge (played to camp in full clown makeup and extra padding by the wonderful Susan Gagnon) and Aunt Spiker (the equally evil acting Joanne Feenstra in full-on Rocky Horror Picture Show wig), James  finds an escape from their abuse when he is approached by a mysterious old man (played by the rather young and spry Doug Fairweather) who offers him some magical gems.

Once planted, those gems turn into the peach, once again projected onto the screen, which grows bigger and bigger until the overly ripened fruit, which James now finds himself inside with some special critters, drops off and keeps on rolling right over the famous white cliffs of Dover into the English Channel.

Think of James’ companions as those from Animal Farm except they are insects, and luckily these bugs all get along with each other for the most part. The insects are played by some talented young actors  donning some ingenious costumes.

Standing out right from the get-go is Shaleen Toney, who sounds and looks like Mario from the video game Super Mario Brothers. With her red cap, moustache, and what sounds like either a New “Joisey” or New Yorker accent, if you can tell the difference, Toney wears a costume of 18 little legs with booties on them. (It was my daughter who counted them, although in the story, the Centipede claims to have 100 little legs, but the Earthworm points out that he actually has only 42.)

But it doesn’t really matter as Toney as the Centipede sings and dances to the delight of all.

Speaking of scene stealing, the Earthworm (Penner doing double duty here) shimmies, whines and sighs just as you would imagine both a blind and legless insect would. She is hilarious.

So are all the other little creatures who help James find his way across the ocean, and up through the sky (via another ingenious trick involving lines of string), where they are met by a number of curious onlookers, including the strange dancing cloud people.

With the talented cast, simple set and delightful music, accompanied on guitar by music director Rory White, this really is a play you can take the whole family to. The youngsters may not get all the weird things that go on, but they’ll definitely be able to sink their teeth into this fun, silly adventure.

Asparagus Theatre continues its run of James and the Giant Peach at Centennial Auditorium in Armstrong tonight through Saturday. Shows take place at 8 p.m., with a matinée Saturday at 2 p.m. Call or visit The Guy Next Door (250-546-0950) for tickets.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Vernon rink into win column at BC Senior Curling finals

Vernon Curling Club hosting the province’s top senior curlers; finals set for Sunday at 10 a.m.

Vernon bowlers dominate zones at home

Five teams from Lincoln Lanes advance to provincial YBC finals in Vernon/Kelowna

Vernon sewing instructor teaches flawless fitting

Clothes for real curves made possible with Dawne Whelpley’s workshops

Vernon-area duo still awaiting trial for animal abuse

Trial date expected to be set within the next three weeks

Vernon woman named one of B.C.’s Top 40 business leaders

Amanda Shatzko, consultant and politician, picked up Business in Vancouver Top 40 selection

Okanagan divers ready to take on 2020 B.C. Winter Games

The athletes have been training four days a week

Galchenyuk nets shootout winner as Wild edge Canucks 4-3

Vancouver tied with Calgary for second spot in NHL’s Pacific Division

B.C.’s soda drink tax will help kids lose weight, improve health, says doctor

Dr. Tom Warshawski says studies show sugary drinks contribute to obesity

A&W employees in Ladysmith get all-inclusive vacation for 10 years of service

Kelly Frenchy, Katherine Aleck, and Muriel Jack are headed on all-expenses-paid vacations

B.C. mom’s complaint about ‘R word’ in children’s ministry email sparks review

In 2020, the ‘R’ word shouldn’t be used, Sue Robins says

B.C., federal ministers plead for meeting Wet’suwet’en dissidents

Scott Fraser, Carolyn Bennett says they can be in Smithers Thursday

EDITORIAL: Revisiting cannabis regulations

Recent retail license application has brought up concerns about present policy in Summerland

Guidelines regulate Summerland cannabis stores

The municipality’s policy, 300.6 establishes the 50-metre buffer zone around schools and parks

Largest aircraft to operate at YLW begins service to Toronto this summer

The Boeing 767-300ER will increase seat availability for flights to Toronto by 40 per cent

Most Read