Taika Waititi leads all-star charity Roald Dahl readings

Alison Flood
·3-min read

Chris and Liam Hemsworth, Ryan Reynolds, Meryl Streep and Benedict Cumberbatch are among stars taking part in a group reading of Roald Dahl’s beloved classic James and the Giant Peach from their homes to raise money for the fight against coronavirus.

Oscar-winning film-maker Taika Waititi is teaming up with the Roald Dahl Story Company to recreate Dahl’s book in 10 instalments. Waititi will narrate the story while dozens of actors join in, including Lupita Nyong’o, Mindy Kaling and Cate Blanchett. In the first episode, the Hemsworth brothers play Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker, with Streep and Cumberbatch taking on the roles of the evil aunties in the second – probably the only time Streep and Chris Hemsworth will ever play the same character.

The first and second episodes are both available to view now, with remaining instalments to be released on the Roald Dahl YouTube channel every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

The collaboration is intended to raise money for global health non-profit Partners in Health (PIH), which is fighting Covid-19 in the world’s most vulnerable areas. The Roald Dahl Story Company has committed matching donations up to $1m (£823,000), as part of a wider commitment to give more than £1m to charities affected by Covid-19, including the Roald Dahl Marvellous Children’s Charity in the UK, which provides specialist nurses to seriously ill children.

Waititi said that James and the Giant Peach, in which James embarks on an adventure with various giant insectoid companions, was a “wacky, wonderful tale” about “resilience in children, triumph over adversity and dealing with a sense of isolation which couldn’t been more relevant today”. First published in 1961, the book has sold more than 28m copies around the world.

“Being an adult child myself and having read James and the Giant Peach to my girls multiple times, I’m excited to be able to partner with my friends, the Dahl team and PIH and retell this story to help those most in need right now,” said Waititi, who is already writing, directing and executive producing two original Roald Dahl animated series for Netflix, one based on the world of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and one centred on the Oompa-Loompas.

Dahl’s daughter, Ophelia Dahl, the founder of PIH, said her father had instilled in his children when they were young “the notion that imagination will spark a chain reaction of possibilities – we can dream endlessly about ideas and make them real”.

“This early training meant it was not such a leap to envision PIH with my friends,” she said. “Roald was one of our earliest and most enthusiastic supporters and never let me leave for Haiti without stuffing a massive wad of cash in my hand to put towards the next project. You can see from his stories that he always supported the most vulnerable and those excluded from opportunity. PIH was the perfect match.”

“We know from experience that the impact of this virus will be felt most by vulnerable communities around the world,” she added. “But with more than three decades’ experience in community-based health care, including responses to epidemics and outbreaks such as Ebola, cholera and tuberculosis, we know how to fight this.”

The Roald Dahl Story Company previously donated $1.3m to PIH for maternal health in Sierra Leone, and has given $12m to date to other charitable causes.