Dear Turnpike Community Theatre,
Thank you once again for inviting us to come and watch your latest production, this time “James and the Giant Peach”, on Wednesday 29th June 2016. We always look forward to your productions, and this one was especially exciting as Sarah and I have really enjoyed reading this book with Austin, our six year old son.
I thought that as I write this review, I would ask Austin to help me by commenting on the different aspects of the show, to give some perspective from a child’s point of view.
We arrived early and as at the previous show we attended at the Turnpike Gallery in Leigh, we were pleased at the ample parking, and clean modern facilities, not to mention a friendly welcome by the front of house team, and coffee and refreshments available from the beginning!
We moved to the auditorium and took our seats, and awaited the start of the show. The ambient sounds of traffic constructed an atmosphere tong before the “curtain-up" moment, helping to build our anticipation.
We firstly met children on a tourist trip, with an effective silhouette of the skyline and good use of sounds to enhance the atmosphere, utilising the sound system available at the theatre. The children were played by the junior cast members who added a depth and different dimension to the cast. Austin enjoyed seeing the children on stage - he commented "The children who got up on stage were very brave standing in front of all those people who were there. The children acted very well and they looked like real explorers".
We both really enjoyed the performance of the Old Green Grasshopper, played superbly by Mark Bassett. His costume was brilliant, and he played the role with panache, humour, and a great sense of timing and pace. I particularly enjoyed the musical interjections and the violin playing, which was very effective, and humorous! Austin enjoyed the Grasshopper too "The Grasshopper was really funny and very musical. I really liked the hilarious rhyming words he used” - indeed his solo, sung with commanding confidence and a strong, tuneful voice, was a real highlight!
When we met the characters, the striking thing was the high standard of costumes across the cast. Aunt Sponge, and Aunt Spiker formed a formidable team, and these characters were played brilliantly by Laura Gredecki and Ellie Gunning. Austin commented "They were mean and nasty and picked on James" - we absolutely believed their selfishness and greed. Visually they looked the part too, down to excellent costumes and make-up!
The scene when we first met all of the characters inside the peach was wonderfully surreal! The spider's costume was fabulous in particular. Austin's favourite character of the whole evening was the Earthworm, played by Grace Gentle. "Her miserableness was really funny!" Her excellent costume worked well under the bright stage lighting, and we loved her sunglasses! I loved the dour demeanour and slightly depressed manner of this character too, really well executed.
A notable mention should go to James Massey as the centipede, for his confident performance - indeed he seems to be growing in confidence every time we come to watch one of your productions. His solo was performed with flair, and the addition of the chorus added further depth - the supporting cast could have sung a little louder in support of him, perhaps, for a thicker, more balanced sound. Austin enjoyed James Massey’s performance "I really loved when the centipede said he had 100 legs and the Earthworm said he had 42 legs!" In addition, Sue Slack's Ladybird added some extra structure to the narrative, her voice was clear and she spoke with a beautifully measured pace. Her costume was bright and vibrant, and this added a real splash of colour to the set, particularly as the bright red of her attire contrasted lots of blues and greens on stage.
We must mention Sarah Masters and her excellent performance of James, Austin said "She was the star of the show!" - She played really confidently throughout, keeping the pace to the dialogue moving along, and varying her pitch and intonation in such a way as to keep the audience engaged. Her voice was friendly, and we were absolutely “on side" with James's character throughout - bravo!
I would like to further mention the set - we thought the use of space was imaginative. From the LED's in the tree to portray the magic in the soil, to the fabulous peach, with it's three-dimensional, multi functional capability! The port-holes in particular were a fine touch. The scene changes were slick, and well managed by the able stage crew, invisible in black! My favourite set was the peach in the sea. The blue fabric was brilliant, and extra marks for it's animation, not to mention the seagulls! The ropes spun by Miss Spider were effectively managed and with a bit of imagination, the tricky storyline and setting was portrayed brilliantly by the cast! We were scared of the Sharks, too!
Overall, we both had a wonderful evening. Thank you so much for entertaining us and making us smile from beginning to end. I truly think that the Turnpike Community Theatre group are a wonderful part of the local community, and it seems that you have a strong bond and team ethic, which radiates through in every performance you give - not just from the cast but across the board. Austin adds "I really enjoyed the play thank you for a really fun evening!"
Thanks once again, and we look forward to coming to your next production.
All the best wishes,
Alex & Austin Thomas