Children, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Ruby’s Wish is a winner

Awesome Festival review: Cubbyhouse Co. Ruby’s Wish ·
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre, 1 October ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

Theatre for kids (or Bright Young Things, as the Awesome Festival adroitly likes to call them) is so often the best there is that it’s no longer a surprise.

These days I take my seat in the midst of squirming, tousle-haired grommets at a kids’ show with more excitement and anticipation than when I’m with world-weary adults, seeing “grown-up” theatre.

And there’s a good reason for it. Unlike the adult variety, theatre for kids can’t take its audience for granted; get too arcane or too high-falutin’ and the wriggling will go all wormy and the growing minds will go wandering to places you can’t get to.

Get it right, though, and the resulting bright-eyed attention and unleashed imagination will be as immediate and palpable a reward as performers could hope or wish for.

If you want to see what I mean, grab some kids and take them to Ruby’s Wish at Awesome this week.

The kids will be entranced by the story of the brave Ruby, desperately ill in her hospital bed, and the friendship she finds with Dot the clown (Holly Austin) that heals them both. They’ll love the pop music (and even the jazz) that Dot’s character, Dr Audy Yo, conjures up with her vocal loop machine, her hilarious sound effects and her mime. They’ll suffer Ruby’s pain with her, and cheer her courage. It’s just a wonderful show for kids.

If you can’t find any of them, though, grab some adults and take them instead. It’s maybe the best show for ANY age you’ll see this year.

To begin with, it’s a perfect example of metatheatre – the art-within-the-art that exposes the artificiality of drama; that the characters are actors, the dialogue is a script, the action is staging. We know – we are told from the start – that Dr Audy-Yo is Dot, and that she is Holly Austin, that Ruby’s dad is Adriano Cappelletta, that the narrator is Alice Osborne. We are watching people doing something as much as we are watching what they are doing.

What they do, and how they do it, is a magical exercise in sub-creation, brought together with snap, crackle and pop by the director Jo Turner. Ruby is a puppet (directed by Osborne, whose credits also include puppet and movement direction for the Australian production of War Horse) who is tiny when she’s feeling sick, larger when she’s okay. Her nightmares come to life in terrifying animations of skeletal x-ray forests (by The Last Great Hunt’s Tim Watts), monster mop puppets and desperate drowning dreams (outstandingly lit by Verity Hampson).

Triumphant over the pain of illness and the fear of death is the life force in Ruby, brought alive by Dot. Austin has a kind of genius in her performance, a happy, infectious tenacity. She’s like Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky or Audrey Tautou in Amélie. (In front of me, young Xavier, only six, turned to his mum to explain to her what “invincible” means).

She’s sad, too, and frightened, as is her dad, and they make you want them to be happy, and safe.

And you want Ruby’s dream to come true. It’s not, as her dad fears, that she will live to see her eighth birthday.

It’s much more than that. And it does.

Ruby’s Wish plays the Studio Underground until October 8.

Read a review of Ruby’s Wish by junior critic Bethany Stopher, age 12.

Photo: Kathy Luu.

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