Take a ride on a giant peach this festival

Jan Potgieter / National Arts Festival

The feelings of nostalgia were well with me as I moved into the Memory Hall at St Andrews Prepatory School. It was a little awkward for me, as it was evident that I was only adult in the audience that wasn’t acting as chaperone to the rows and rows of schoolchildren that filled the seats.

But eventually the lights dimmed, the announcer told everyone to turn their phones off, and I was then treated to a confident and creative adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel James and the Giant Peach, delivered unto us by the talented students of UJ Arts & Culture, a division of FADA (Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture).

And the simple fact is, like the British author’s other works such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG, these are stories that are ‘just ripe’ for a stage adaptation. A combination of the visuals and quirky characters are able to take kids on an exciting adventure. Now for a stage production, it can be difficult to visualise Dahl’s creations to their fullest extent without to having to rely on elaborate or expensive effects.

Director Alby Michaels, a veteran of South African television, has found a way around this through a combination of creative props and versatile characters, relying more on the spirit of the story to provide a spectacle that will appeal to the little ones. You can plainly see that Ntokozo Dhlamini and Karabo Thosa, who play the characters of James’ Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker, are having a great time in their roles on stage. Meanwhile, our main hero James, played by Musa Mboweni, has an observing role, similar to that of the role of the audience, but who also provides an energy that reinforces the wonder that embodies the creatures who live inside the giant peach.

A criticism to note that, while the production is polished and all characterisations are revelled in, the acoustics of the venue serve to the actor’s detriment with dialogue being lost in the reverberations. The sound mixing, while meant to assist in delivering song lyrics to the audience, is also hampered. It is a shame to lose this aspect, as the musical numbers do add to the spectacle.

But on the whole, I enjoyed the performance, as did the throngs of children that surrounded me and happily bounced a giant orange balloon across the auditorium.

By Samuel Spiller