Anyone who grew up in England and doesn’t have fond memories of hunkering down in the cool shade or snuggling up in a warm duvet with a Road Dahl book missed out.
Drinking in his fantastical tales was a rite of passage and, in James And The Giant Peach, the author takes us, and our young hero, on a magical adventure introducing us to a menagerie of quirky beasts – a boisterous centipede, pessimistic earthworm, musical grasshopper, kindly ladybird and good-natured spider – as well as a mysterious old man and pair of ghastly aunts.
Ewan Goddard, 24, who plays the seven-year-old James in Sell A Door Theatre Company’s production , has also met a clutch of colourful characters on his journey to Greenwich Theatre’s stage, including his own scary old lady.
“I remember being scared of my keyboard player as a boy,” said the Pimlico resident. “She had a shock of jet black hair and reminded me of Ursula from The Little Mermaid.”
But first on the list are his mother, a former Poet Laureate of Birmingham, and father, who teaches severely disabled children, who raised him near Dudley in the Midlands and introduced him Dahl’s books.
Ewan said: “They used to read me Revolting Rhymes when I was younger which I loved and things like The Twits and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. I love Dahl. He has a bit of an edge and is so unique.”
They also gave him his first taste of the theatre, but not just children’s shows, taking him to see Mike Leigh’s play Abigail’s Party when he was 14.
“It’s kind of weird when you think about it but it was nice. I remember my mum saying ‘You won’t get everything in this’ but I really loved it,” he said.
After graduating from Exeter University and Guildford School Of Acting Ewan landed a role in a Terence Rattigan play and has worked with Gary Wilmott, “lovely” Sue Holderness from Only Fools And Horses, in panto with fashion guru Gok Wan – “he gave me style tips” – and more recently with Doctor Who legend Sylvester McCoy on an audio play of the series.
Ewan said: “He was really eccentric and really fun, really nice. He had an Apple watch that I was helping him with, ironic considering he was playing a Time Lord.”
He landed his part as James by reciting children’s poem If I Were A Giant and song Now I’ve Seen You from musical Honk and said of his character: “He is an amazing little boy. I have never seen anyone who is quite so robust. He is just a little trooper.
“Although he goes through this horrible time there is a sense of hope about him and he never gives up and really does see the good in everybody and life.”
Ewan said he had to abandon his adult mentality to play the seven-year-old but could still identify with the character.
“I’m a positive person too and its good to remember that no matter what happens, there is a way out,” he said. “This whole career, being in acting, you do have to be quite resourceful. You come up against times of great pressure and you have to stand up to it and be sure of what you are doing, which I find quite bracing and character building.”
James And The Giant Peach, various times, Thursday, April 21-24, from £14, Greenwich Theatre
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