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Kids/Reviews/Musical Theatre

Classic start to festival

28 September 2021

The Awesome International Arts Festival opens with the story of Blinky Bill. Seesaw’s Junior Reviewer and David Zampatti discuss whether the adventurous koala and his message about the environment is still relevant almost 100 years later.

Blinky Bill is on the Loose, KoBugs Theatre Company & Awesome Festival ·
WA Museum Boola Bardip Forecourt, 27 September 2021 ·

Are the interests of today’s little tackers different from those of their great-grandparents? Does Dorothy Wall’s beloved character, the feisty little koala Blinky Bill, still weave the same spell in Blinky Bill is on the Loose as he did back in 1933 (when, it occurs to me, my parents were the same age as the target audience of this new stage musical)?

Judging from the reaction of the kids in the brimful crowd in the auditorium that’s popped up outside the WA Museum on what I guess we should rename the “Grand Final Long Weekend”, I’ve got my doubts. I think they have too.

Reviewing theatre for bright, very young things is a double-barrelled exercise.

The story tells how young Blinky leaves his home tree to see the world, and runs into a pile of characters – some fellow bush creatures, some bad guys with axes, fire and bagfuls of cash threatening to destroy the forest environment. It has its moments, and the conservation message that carries through from Wall’s original stories is a big plus, but there’s almost no attempt to tie the narrative together, and precious little for the nannas, pops, mums and dads who belong to the kids to chuckle over.    

There are 10 songs, plus a couple of reprises, and they are smart and lively, at their best quite catchy, though there’s nothing you wouldn’t expect.

The cast from South Australia’s KoBugs Theatre Company, James Hornsby (Blinky Bill), Chloe Bremner (Angelina Wallaby), Claire McEvoy (Mrs Koala), Ben Francis (Go Go Goanna) and, offstage, Michael Eustice (George the Galah) bring great energy and variety to multiple roles, but their amplified voices were far too loud (quite distressingly so for some very young kids near me), and it was hard to escape the sense they were trying to win over by sheer dint of effort an audience they hadn’t been able to capture.

The most successful number, Hornsby’s sweet “Eucalyptus”, was also the show’s quietest and calmest. There’s a lesson in that.

Because that’s the other thing about reviewing children’s theatre: it’s an exercise in watching and listening to little people, and you pick up quickly and very clearly whether a show has grabbed their attention and sparked their curiosity. 

You can sense their focus – in the best shows it’s a kind of rapt silence punctuated with excited questioning of nearby adults. I’m afraid during Blinky Bill is on the Loose that silence was nowhere to be not heard, and there appeared to be nothing the girls and boys felt they needed to know about this very old-fashioned way of telling a very old-fashioned story.

Just watch an episode of Bluey and you’ll see how classic storytelling for kids has moved on.

Junior review by Chloe Danaher, age 6, written by Jackson Danaher, age 11 ·

At first, we didn’t know what to expect of the show. My brother Jackson had heard of Blinky Bill and he knew it was about a koala, but I hadn’t heard of him. 

It was a surprise that it was outside (not inside) the WA Museum Boola Bardip. While we were waiting for the show to start we played in the mist sprinklers outside the museum.

In the show, Blinky Bill goes on an adventure in the forest. He meets a lot of animals on his adventure and finds out some animals can be sassy and live underground, some animals have tails and some jump very far.

He also finds there are people who want to sell the land, chop down the trees and burn it all up. It’s about the world and things six-year olds should know, how there’s kind people but also cruel people who do bad stuff to our world.

We found all this out with the music and the dancing. There was some audience interaction. Halfway through the show we all learnt the frog song.

My favourite animal had to be the frogs.

The music was great and the songs were very catchy. The singing was awesome. They needed to work more on the set and stage as there was one tiny image in the background and that was the entire stage. The story was OK apart from some of the transitions between the different animals’ homes were a bit hard to follow.

Overall, the show was great. It made me feel excited. I would recommend it for kids 4 to 7 years old. 

Blinky Bill is on the Loose runs until 2 October 2021.

Pictured top: The cast of KoBugs Theatre Company’s ‘Blinky Bill is on the Loose’. Photo supplied

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

Past Articles

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