Category: Kids Theatre

Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

A colourful romp sure to delight

By Bradley Storer

The musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved childhood tale opened in Melbourne this week, and while children will surely be delighted by this colourful romp, I feel its charms may be lost on adults with fond memories of the 1971 film.

The problem is best encapsulated in the treatment of Wonka himself – here onstage from the very first moment of the show, the character loses the mystery and ambiguity of Gene Wilder’s portrayal. In his initial interactions with the unwitting Charlie, Wonka comes off as casually cruel in a way that makes it hard to stomach the rest of his journey, despite Paul Slade Smith’s natural charm and clear command of the role. The wonderment and entrancing beauty of the original story and movie only truly appears in the strains of the classic ‘Pure Imagination’, as video projections and LED lights transform the stage into Wonka’s Edenic candy-land.

On opening night Lenny Thomas was irresistibly loveable as Charlie, particularly in his final scene. Tony Sheldon wielded his stage expertise and comic timing to maximum effect as Grandpa Joe, dropping groan-worthy Aussie references and clearly having the time of his life. As Mrs Bucket, Lucy Maunder was radiant, as always, in a somewhat thankless role.

The quartet of Charlie’s fellow ticket winners are even more unlikeable than you remember, with the exception of Jake Fehily’s glowingly good natured Augustus Gloop (unfortunately buried under a cavalcade of one-note fat jokes). Karina Russell brings beautiful dancing to the screechingly awful Veruca Salt, and her eventual demise is one of the few shocking surprises of the evening. Harrison Riley nails the physical comedy of the sociopathic hacker Mick Teavee, but Jayde Westaby as Mrs Teavee has to deal with an introduction number so fast that the lyrics are completely lost. Backed up by the refreshing Madison McKoy as Mr Beauregard, stand out Jayme-Lee Hanekom is a miniature supernova of talent as ‘queen of pop’ Violet.

I found the new tunes for the show mostly prosaic, despite being lifted by the masterful musical direction of Kelly Dickerson. The ensemble in their multitude of roles are world class, and the appearance of the Oompa Loompas is quite possibly the high point of the entire evening.

Despite the uneven material, the talent, dedication and vitality of the Australian cast shines through, creating a worthwhile family-friendly night at the theatre.

Dates: 15th August – 1st December

Times: 7pm Wednesday, 7:30pm Thursday – Saturday, 2pm Saturday, 1pm Wednesday and Sunday, 6pm Sunday

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, 219 Exhibition St, Melbourne VIC 3000

Bookings: ticketek.com.au, 13 28 49, at the box office or Ticketek Outlets.

Photography by Heidi Victoria

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MICF: Super Amazing Giant Girl

Banana-eating comic book hero for the littlies

By Rebecca Waese 

There’s a Super Amazing Giant Girl crushing it at Melbourne’s Town Hall this International Comedy Festival and she’s larger than life. If you’ve ever felt like you don’t fit in, circus performer and comedian, Anna Lumb, has an interactive, action-packed hour of power for littlies who will learn to use their imaginations and keep on trying.

When the Super Amazing Giant Girl heads off to the Big City to find her groove, she jumps through a mind-boggling number of hoops (literally) until she befriends a Normal Person, Jez Davies, who helps her discover her confidence and share her talents even when things go seismically wrong.

My kids and I loved the gymnastics stunts, roller skating over bubble wrap, banana-eating tricks, and experiments with the slow-motion/fast forward button. The soundtrack, with A-ha, ACDC, Uptown Funk and Pump the Jam, keeps the audience rocking and there’s a lovely version of Katy Perry’s Roar as Lumb balances in a precarious position that I sure hope the kids don’t try at home. With comic-book sensibilities and polished use of sound effects, you’ll cheer for this friendly giant who gets the kids onside and participating in a real-time hail storm and some stinky undies gags.

Following a successful Australian tour and adapted for the comedy festival, Super Amazing Giant Girl is a 60-minute imaginative blast delivered by Lumb, who has toured internationally with Strange Fruit and teaches at Circus Oz. Davies adds quirky humour in his supporting role and brings rather impressive juggling talents to the mix.

It doesn’t play down or patronise; it’s refreshing, original and high octane. I’d recommend giving it a go this school holidays for kids under 10.

 

Super Amazing Giant Girl runs until 21 April at the Melbourne Town Hall as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets can be purchased online.

Photograph: Theresa Harrison

Rebecca Waese is an Honorary Associate at La Trobe University in the Department of Creative Arts and English.

MICF: Macdeth

Company 13 presents Macdeth

By Narelle Wood

It’s a weird combination, Macbeth, The Comedy Festival and a children’s show; with all the murder, blood, and deceit, it shouldn’t really work. Somehow, Company 13, director James Pratt and actors Fiona Roake, Christian Bagin and John Forman not only make it work, but have turned Macbeth from one of Shakespeare’s classic tragedies to a joyous exploration of the dark, and disgusting side of the cursed Scottish play.

It is a reworking of the original play but it hits all the key plot points, and characters are reinvented to make them easily identifiable to the younger members of the audience whilst still managing to capture their underlying natures. The witches are more like the ugly step-sisters, kind of stupid but up to no good, goading Macbeth into traitorous action. Lady Macbeth’s sinister plots become child-like tantrums in an effort to get everything she wants and King Duncan is a bumbling, farting fool who you feel sorry for not because he is too kind, but because he’s too stupid to realise the betrayal. Banquo is non-threatening, except maybe as a ghost and all Macbeth needs is a couple of compliments to appease his pride and he turns from “who me, King?” to an entitled brat who things he’s invincible.

Macdeth is by no means a simplified version of Macbeth. Yes, there are some missing soliloquies and there are parts missing for expediency to fit the play into the one-hour kid-friendly format. However, Company 13 intermingle modern language with excerpts from the play. The balance between the two is perfect: what the audience might not understand of the Shakespearean parts is made clear through the action, the interactions between the characters and the move into more informal dialogue.

The ensemble cast of Roake, Pratt, Bagin and Forman play multiple characters and at time provide the musical accompaniment as well. There are not many props, so much of the action relies on the audience’s imagination, which is just as well, because this is a retelling designed to include kids and therefore it includes all those gross things that children tend to find amusing – farts, snot and young people’s appropriate stylised murder, to which the kid sitting behind me responded “oh, that’s brilliant”.

Having seen countless interpretations of Macbeth, this by far would have to be one of my favourites. Short and not so sweet, this is a Shakespeare comedic tragedy not to be missed.

 

Macdeth plays at Coopers Malthouse as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival until 19 April. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office on 03 9685 5111.  

Photograph: Jeff Busby

 

Australian Shakespeare Company presents Alice in Wonderland

Colourful and whimsical, with even a touch of the impossible

By Narelle Wood

The Australian Shakespeare Company’s retelling of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is everything you would expect it to be, colourful and whimsical, with even a touch of the impossible.

The adventure starts, as any good adventure does, by following the White Rabbit (Kathleen Douglas) into Wonderland. On her journey Alice (Ayesha Gibson) encounters many strange and wondrous creatures, including all the old favourites: Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Mad Hatter (Dennis Manahan), and of course the Cheshire Cat to name but a few. Humpty Dumpty also makes an appearance, as does Absolem the caterpillar and the Duchess who has some interesting parenting tips.

There are plenty of opportunities for the younger audience members to engage with the characters and be a part of the show. The older generations need not feel left out as they also have a part to play helping to distract the awful Red Queen (Terri Brabon) from her stolen raspberry tarts. Of course, anything to do with Red Queen comes with the risk that someone might lose his or her head, but the risk is totally worth it.

The gardens at Rippon Lea Estate provide the perfect backdrop for Alice’s adventures, with plenty of space to enjoy a picnic and a special spot at the front so the smaller audience members can see. The storyline is enhanced by some very cute song and dance numbers, as well as some good humour to keep the adults entertained.

Everything about the production (directed by Glenn Elston) is great, but the costumes and puppetry are standouts. The White Rabbit’s costume is stunning, and the use of puppetry to bring Humpty Dumpty and the Cheshire Cat to life is very clever. The only thing that was really disappointing is that the cast finished their last song and went straight to photo opportunities with the children; it felt a little bit strange not to have an opportunity to acknowledge their fantastic performances with a round of applause. That being said the photo opportunity was hugely popular, the show a clear hit with the kids.

As a lover of the books, this production does not disappoint. It’s an endearing performance, and has everything one might hope for in a retelling that is appropriate for all ages. It’s a perfect way to spend a summer’s eve.

Alice in Wonderland is being performed at Rippon Lea House and Gardens until 27 January. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 8676 7511.

Photograph: Nicole Cleary

Boyd Productions presents Alice in Wonderland

A colourful ride down the rabbit hole

By Owen James

Alice in Wonderland has been my favourite book ever since I was a child. Its timeless themes and madcap characters have lent the material to countless adaptations for more than 150 years, and this latest touring production is a faithful and colourful rendition that caters adeptly to the whimsy and adventure of children and adults alike.

As Alice ventures through Wonderland meeting assortedly chaotic characters and anarchic animals, she’s very pleased to quench her boredom from the riverbank at the top of the show. Younger children may find it hard to focus on longer scenes such as the Mad Tea Party or the trial of the Jack of Hearts, but overall this 60-minute production moves at a rate of knots, to keep every child engaged and entertained.

Adaptor and director Penny Farrow has ensured that despite the complex linguistic treats inherent in Lewis Carroll’s original text, her production delivers a world easily understood by children through larger than life caricatures and clear, comedic movement. Farrow relies greatly on the audience’s imagination to show Alice’s transformations when she grows and shrinks, and as ensemble members transform into doors, playing cards and wind, her very clever direction proves how little you need to tell a story.

Costumes by Diana Eden, Louisa Bannah and Gayle MacGregor are rich in colour and elaborate in design and detail. Kids especially loved the Caterpillar (Anthony Craig) and Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee (Sarah Whalen and Justine Anderson), as well as the expertly realised puppets by Dieter Barry Creations.

Georgina Walker leads the cast as audacious Alice, bringing smiles to small faces throughout the audience from the moment she first steps onto stage. Every member of this eight-person ensemble plays their part with joy and boundless energy – children are mesmerised.

Alice in Wonderland is fantastic school holiday entertainment filled with colour, gorgeous music and costumes, enchanting puppetry and extraordinary storytelling, all of which will delight children of all ages.

Alice in Wonderland was performed 10 – 12 January at Melbourne’s Athnaeum Theatre before touring to Frankston, Bendigo, and Perth. See here for more information about dates and tickets.  

Review: Wolfgang

Circus meets Mozart in a cheeky blend of classical and popular forms

By Lois Maskiell

Acclaimed Australian contemporary circus company, Circa, flip high and low art in their spirited and lively children’s show, Wolfgang. Titled after none other than the enduring Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself, the production offers little ones an energetic and hilarious foray into classical music, complete with a live accordion, virtuosic acrobatics and even fart jokes.

Sparks begin when acrobat (Kathryn O’Keeffe) enjoys a solitary birthday moment while she spins a Mozart record on a nearby turntable. In instants, Mozart (Paul O’Keeffe) and a clownish accordion player appear from a refrigerator door and the mayhem quickly escalates.

The next hour features a series of wild and whirling segments in which Mozart and the acrobat enter into a series of duet like routines. From first-rate tumbling to perfectly poised hand balancing, the performers showcase their astonishing skills. Children are heard gurgling and whooping throughout the theatre as amusing stunts – which at times only feature a music stand or moving spotlight – raise the roof with laughter.

Mozart’s character is performed with an overflowing exuberance that’s at once infectious and energising to witness. Towards the beginning his acrobatic companion is given a brief window to showcase her own talent and strength, though her brilliance is mostly overshadowed by the capricious genius of Mozart. Mozart embraces the limelight in his outlandish cycling routine: he jumps around, shifting positions as he dresses from underpants into an extravagant gentleman’s coat.

Circa delivers yet again with Wolfgang. By blending classical and popular forms, they continue in the same vein as their previous work like the circus-opera Il Ritorno, or their more recent interpretation of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Director Yaron Lifschitz takes Mozart’s elegant music and injects within it a certain joy and playfulness which teases traditions all the while reminding us to enjoy art wherever it’s found.

Wolfgang is being performed 2 – 12 January at Arts Centre Melbourne with a relaxed performance taking place 9 January. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183.

Photograph: supplied

Review: George’s Marvellous Medicine

Mischief and laughter abound in adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic

By Rebecca Waese 

Following a sold-out season at the Sydney Opera House, shake and stir theatre co has served up a winner at Arts Centre Melbourne with their fresh and fabulous theatrical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine. Gross, engrossing and deliciously wrong, this theatrical adaptation is directed by Ross Balbuziente who is not afraid of a good running fart gag or a Roald Dahl classic novel with the dubious message of eliminating an evil adult who makes life miserable for a child. This show is great fun for kids and great all round.

In a cast of standouts, Nick Skubij plays the mischievous eight-year-old George who creates medicine for his horrible Grandma that will hopefully make her easier to bear. With naughty glee and a complete disregard for health and safety, George concocts an elixir that makes Grandma grow to epic proportions. George’s parents, the excitable Mr. Kranky (Tim Dashwood) and Mrs. Kranky (Nelle Lee) – a designer-loving wife in a cow-hide skirt – add cartoonish flair to the stage and Johnny Balbuziente who plays Nugget the chicken uses physical comedy to the hilt with the latest in chicken talk and puppetry. Grandma (Leon Cain) is a terrific performer with sharp comedic timing and doesn’t shy away from engaging in contemporary references that take this Dahl tale right up to the minute.

Lighting designer Jason Glenwright and sound designer Guy Webster add to the winning recipe of magical wizardry with storms, bubbling brews, and humorous sound effects. The overall design of the set, with moveable sliding panels for rooms, crooked shelves and pop-up surprise doors, all decked out in a 1970s brown and yellow floral frenzy, adds to the imaginative flavour and had me exclaiming in wonder as George dared to mix a brew that sent Grandma and the chicken through the roof.

There were more than a few public service announcements warning kids, “Do not try this at home!” but, I must say, in these overly safe and parent-patrolled times, this theatrical adventure of “what if” was even more delicious for its shocking mischief and sheer delight in how far naughty George could go on a humdrum Saturday afternoon. The hour sped by in a blur and the show left the audience wide-eyed and cackling with incredulous laughter.

Though you may not want to see it with your Grandma, this show sends you back to what it feels like to be a curious kid with an aptitude for mischief. It’s terrific entertainment and bucket-loads of fun. Come early and make a crazy chicken or some farm creature crafts at the Kranky Farm before the show. Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine has got the right recipe for family theatre that leaves you wanting more.

Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine is being performed 25 – 29 September at Arts Centre Melbourne with an Auslan interpreted performance and relaxed performance. See here for more information and tickets.

Rebecca Waese is an Honorary Associate at La Trobe University in the Department of Creative Arts and English.

Photograph: Dylan Evans