Review: Bandart Productions, Ann-Droid ·
Heath Ledger Theatre ·
Review by David Zampatti ·
It’s strange. Two Awesome Festival shows, Ruby’s Wish and Ann-Droid, have much in common, and yet are worlds apart.
Both feature animation wizardry, both deal with death and the fear of death, and both explore the world of dreams. But while Ruby’s Wish is engrossing, emotional and captivating, Ann-Droid is distant, distancing and cold.
Despite (or perhaps because of) all its technical skill, it reminded me of watching someone else playing The Legend of Zelda.
And I wasn’t alone. The young audience, who had been so transfixed throughout Ruby’s Wish, became increasingly wormy and distracted as Ann-Droid’s animated landscapes rolled past and scenes and visual concepts repeated themselves.
To carry a fairly complex narrative in the absence of dialogue, much depends on the precision of the physical acting, and that wasn’t a feature of this production. Szabolcs Tóth-Zs’s gizmo-obsessed father is stilted and obvious.
The appeal of his character isn’t helped by a long introduction to the show’s technical assets, a robot fashioned from a rollator, a remote-controlled ball like a stripped down, lit up BB-8 from the Star Wars merch catalogue, and the tricks that could be done on an apparently touch-sensitive projection screen.
Tóth-Zs took us through all these tricks like a scruffy Steve Jobs at one of those gee-whiz Apple launches. It wasn’t as impressive as its creators clearly thought it was, and nowhere near enough for kids who see this kind of stuff daily.
There seems a chance for something more when, in a dream sequence, something terrible happens, and he builds a droid to replace, well maybe save, his daughter (there’s more than a bit of the Pinocchio story in all this).
Ann-Droid (Katalin Lengyel) is set on a quest, very like the aforementioned Zelda, to gather a pile of lost critters and so on. (I only discovered that this was what was going on from the show’s media release.)
Lengyel is a dab hand on roller-skates, and the dovetailing of live and animated action is neatly done, but by then the kids were distracted and their attendant adults were clock-watching.
The whole thing reminded me of nothing more than the Tin Man (who the Ann-Droid character resembled in more than just looks).
It was a bit stiff, it was a bit clumsy, but, worst of all, it didn’t have a heart.
Awesome Festival review: Indepen-dance, Four Go Wild in Wellies ·
PICA Performance Space, 3 October ·
Review by David Zampatti ·
There’s not a thing wrong with a little fun, and if you’re a wee bairn of three, or four, or five, that means play.
And the games that kids play are the stuff of the Scottish dance company Indepen-dance’s Four Go Wild in Wellies, a tiny drop of colour that brightens up the Awesome Festival for little ‘uns and those who dote on them.
Wellies is simplicity itself. Four orange one-person tents disgorge four kids (played by adults Hayley Earlam, Emma Smith, Neil Price and Adam Sloan in yellow, red, green and orange).
They play games, or variations of games, every child knows. Tag, statues, hide and seek. They get tired and go back to their tents. Lights out.
That’s not all there is to it, though. As we watch them play we see those traits that kids learn and begin to master as they play. Aggression and co-operation. Teasing and sympathy. Enmity and forgiveness. All those small lessons in life, those human strengths and weaknesses, that help define us.
For all its modesty, Wellies is neatly constructed (by director Anna Newell and choreographer Stevie Prikett) and sounds and looks just fine (set and costumes by Brian Hartley, music – a sweet continuing tune on, I suspect, the electronic forms of banjos, mandolins, accordions, balalaikas, bass and drums, composed by David Goodall).
Earlam and Smith are lithe, energetic dancers, and Price and Sloan, both of whom have Down Syndrome, perform with zest and humour.
It’s worth noting that we are seeing more and more productions featuring people with Down Syndrome – Julia Hales’ Perth Festival hit You Know We Belong Together (making a welcome return in Black Swan’s 2019 season) and Back to Back Theatre’s Lady Eats Apple at the 2017 Festival are two outstanding recent examples.
This recent growth in opportunities for people with Down Syndrome to create and perform is due, in part, to vastly improved opportunities, more generally, for those with Down Syndrome – thanks to a combination of social advances and a significant increase in life expectancy.
Awesome Festival junior review, Cubbyhouse Co. Ruby’s Wish ·
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA, 3 October ·
Review by Bethany Stopher, age 12 ·
The brilliant show Ruby’s Wish, written by Holly Austin, Adriano Cappelletta and Jo Turner, is currently playing at the Studio Underground, State Theatre of Western Australia.
Ruby’s Wish is amazing! The set is really flexible; one scene it’s the clown doctor Dot’s home, where she sobs over yet another awkward moment when she has said the wrong thing, and next it’s a hospital, where seven-and-three-quarters year old Ruby and her single dad count her “bravery beads” (beads given to her for each of her operations.) It’s hard to believe it is all the same set up!
Another surprise; Ruby’s a puppet! When she was wheeled on stage on her bed, a little girl in front of me exclaimed in surprise, “It’s a dummy!” But Ruby seemed like a real little girl as performers Adriano Cappelletta (the dad) and Alice Osborne (the narrator) made her actions so convincing! What was really cool is that when Ruby felt extremely unwell, they would bring out a smaller puppet to show her feelings.
One thing that I don’t really understand is that all the kids in the audience were younger than me; older children must have been put off by the 7+ rating, but Ruby’s Wish is exciting, funny and moving, and perfect for teenagers too. You have a puppet, a stressed dad, shadow puppets, a crane that folds out from a bed and a clown doctor who has a recording instrument on her arm that she uses to create crazy noises to make a sick little girl laugh and a dad believe in wishes… how much better can you get? It is also interesting that the actors (who are all wonderful, by the way) explore what is reality and what is fiction.
And last of all, it’s just plain funny. There is a paper friend called Russel (get it?) and the actors insist on redoing their entrances until they are just right, which sends the kids into hysterics (and adults too!). My favourite part has to be when Dot the clown doctor (Holly Austin) sings a song for Ruby about being absolutely starving, complete with wild noises and flashing lights and then promptly makes her way into the audience and “eats” a few unlucky children!
Ruby’s Wish is a must-see for all families who don’t mind the occasional sad or scary scene, (there are a couple). I definitely recommend it, but you’ll have to dash because it finishes at the end of this week. I’m so glad I got to see it, I hope they make a sequel!
Awesome Festival review: Sidepony Productions, Audioplay: The Turners ·
State Library of WA, 2 October ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·
There were four sets of headphones on the couch. Each was attached to a tantalising looking player that we were not to touch… a temptation too great for any boy under 12. No matter – soon enough idle fingers were distracted by a series of easy to understand instructions from our host. We were to become characters in a story; we were to respond to the narrative piped through said headphones; we were to try and keep up with the story… but most of all, we were to have fun.
The Turners is an audio play based on a series of children’s books by Mick Elliott. Like the books, the audio play centres around two main characters, Leo and Abbie, a sibling duo who have uncovered a plot to transform humankind into human/snake hybrids.
The show is the creation of Side Pony Productions, a local theatre company that supports the work of director Zoe Pepper. Pepper creates an impressive variety of work, in theatre, participatory gaming and film for adults and children. In The Turners she has produced a neat package of perfect children’s entertainment. 17 minutes long, participants are thrust into the story, using a few key props to enact the storyline as it unfolds through the headphones. The action is fast-paced and requires some quick thinking in order to keep up with the narrative, but the kids I witnessed enjoying the show easily kept pace. One of the beauties of the show lies in its collaborative nature – the kids must work as a team to keep the story rolling along and by the end, there’s a true sense of accomplishment. But don’t just take it from me…
Junior reviewer 1 – Cass Runyon, aged 9
This show was great! It was a lot like a really cool video game or movie but much better because you were inside it. The headphones were cool and it was really fun doing all the stuff that they talked about in the story. It was a bit like being in a Choose Your Own Adventure story but they chose it for you. At the end they wanted to know what we thought and we had to put stars on a page. I had to put my star off the page because this show was off the charts!!!
Junior reviewer 2 – Veronica Bromilow, age 11
I really enjoyed this show and I do not like all shows. I liked being part of the action and acting everything out. I got to play Abbie, who is one of the main characters and my brother played Leo, who is Abbie’s brother! We wore headphones and they gave us instructions through the headphones. What we didn’t realise was that the instructions were different, depending on which headphones you had! It was so cool. I would definitely do it again and I would like to get the app if my Mum lets me.
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.
Awesome Festival junior review: Simon Tedeschi, Pianist and Prankster ·
Octagon Theatre, 28 September ·
Review by Oliver Haluszkiewicz, age 13 ·
Pianist and Prankster is about Simon Tedeschi’s life story as a pianist, growing up with a musical talent, managing 7-9 hours of practise a day and dealing with school. He sets out to explain to us how and why he loves music and shows the audience how it’s a way of expressing himself. Simon lightly touches on the prankster part of his show by telling us a story through different songs on the piano.
Simon showed us so many different moods of music, and many styles ranging from jazz to classical and even boogie. Mostly, though, he introduced kids to classical music by telling stories about his childhood, whilst playing famous classical pieces that fitted the mood of each story. Simon was very funny and it didn’t look like he was trying too hard, which is a good thing because then the show has a better flow and can make people laugh and enjoy themselves. It’s a great way of entertaining kids (and adults!) which he did brilliantly.
Simon is an extraordinary pianist and showed that by telling his life story through music. One part I particularly liked was when he told us about how he fooled his mum into thinking he was practising, when he was really watching his favourite TV show, by playing The Simpsons theme song when she came home. I thought that was really funny and another great way to connect to all ages, as The Simpsons is a classic staple of television family comedy.
Another great story Simon told was about his friend David, who had cerebral palsy, and who played a beautiful piano piece in the school hall. This demonstrated how piano was a physical therapy for him. The song David was playing was a very famous classical piece called Variations on a Theme, by Bach (which we know as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star), and Simon was captivated. He said it was the greatest gift anyone can give to another, a love of music.
Simon connected with the audience so well that everyone laughed and had a good time. The show has finished its season at the Awesome Festival, but if it returns to Perth in the future, I highly recommend it for any parents or grandparents looking to do something with their family.
Awesome Festival review: Simon Tedeschi, Pianist and Prankster and Awesome Festival opening weekend ·
Octagon Theatre, 28 October ·
Review: Rosalind Appleby ·
What has 88 keys but no locks? A piano!
There is no shortage of jokes and funny stories when Simon Tedeschi is around. The world-class pianist arrived on stage at the Octagon theatre in pyjama pants and formal coattails, and it was clear his aptly titled children’s show Pianist and Prankster show was going to be a fabulous start to the Awesome Festival.
The Awesome Festival opened on Friday at the University of Western Australia offering a bite-sized introduction to the children’s festival that will continue to unfold at the Perth Cultural Centre for the next fifteen days. The program includes more than 30 different dance, theatre, music and arts activities for children.
Tedeschi has played for Luciano Pavarotti and the Queen but he also knows how to read kids and his show is a boisterous blend of classic piano repertoire and stories from his childhood. Mozart’s Twelve Variations in C was recognised with delight by my 5 year old – “It’s Twinkle Twinkle played really, really fast”. Other lesser-known pieces come with a story: Melinda’s Mini March is the piece that first inspired him to learn piano, and a Chopin Mazurka pays tribute to his Polish Grandmother.
Tedeschi first performed at the opera house at age eight and has often been called a child prodigy. In this show he traces his precocious skills to his daily practice (often nine hours a day) and the family and teachers who supported him along the way: the principal who bought a grand piano so Tedeschi could practise at school and the classroom teacher who made a pile of cushions so he could sleep during class.
There is no hint of elitism. Instead Tedeschi engages in the type of bragging primary school children love:
“You know what I’m really bad at? Maths. And remembering things!” Cue a story about going to school with shorts on backwards.
There’s a dreamy version of Schumann’s Traumerei, and Chopin’s One Minute Waltz, played ridiculously fast (in 35 seconds to be precise). And then, the finish (my seven year old’s favourite stunt), where Tedeschi lies on the piano stool and plays the piano upside down.
It’s a revealing and also inspiring glimpse into the life of a person whose delight in music is incredibly contagious.
Meanwhile, outside in the sun, the Octagon Theatre was surrounded with stalls and vendors creating a buzzing festival vibe. We tried a drumming session and enjoyed the frivolity of the El Presidente entourage, as bashful and delighted children were crowned and paraded around in a carriage. And we got caught up in the street theatre as the delightful Swiss dance duo Game Theory used chalk to literally draw bystanders into their game of hopscotch. Chalk dust went everywhere as the antics and dance moves unfolded around us. “Don’t worry mum, its organic and washable and bio-everything,” the dancers assured me.
It was a fun introduction to the immense program of events about to explode at the Perth Cultural Centre. Awesome Festival has something for everyone and should definitely be on your holiday list.
Awesome Artistic Director Jenny Simpson chose six shows from this year’s line up and explained why she selected them, and why you should check them out!
Ruby’s Wish (ages 7 and up)
“This is a show that I’ve wanted to program for some time. It’s had really successful seasons at the Sydney Opera House and Arts Centre Melbourne, where it absolutely won over audiences. It’s about a little girl called Ruby, and she’s a disempowered little girl because she’s not very well. She forms unlikely friendship with a very odd clown doctor. Together Ruby and the clown doctor create a whole new world in Ruby’s hospital room.
“The primary message behind this show is that your imagination can set you free. A lot of time we have kids who are getting anxious about things, especially as they go into teenage-hood. One of the things at Awesome that we try to promote is having a creative pursuit or creative interest, because your imagination and creativity can set you free. That is essentially the message that underpins Ruby’s Wish. So I think that it’s not only a beautiful, enjoyable, funny, poignant and delightful show, I hope people take a message out of it that empowers them into the future.”
“It’s absolutely ticklish, and this show is ticklish. It’s by an extraordinary dance company from Glasgow whose name is Independance. They’re called Independance because they are loudly and proudly an inclusive dance company. So they have dancers from all walks of life, who have professional careers, sometimes dancers who we would not expect to have a professional career as a dancer.
“Four Go Wild in Wellies is for younger audiences. As I said, it’s ticklish and fun, and it’s actually very short in duration, so it’s great for children who have a short attention span. Perhaps what I love most about this show is that it features two incredible professional dancers who happen to have Down Syndrome. I think that’s a very powerful message, firstly to the broader community, who may not understand that people with Down Syndrome have fantastic capability and talent, and are perfectly able to have professional careers. And I can think of nothing more empowering for a child who has Down Syndrome, or their parent, than to sit in a curated international arts festival and see two performers, at the top of their game as professionals, performing, and they just happen to have Down Syndrome. So I hope that this is an empowering and informing show for our community.”
McNirt Hates Dirt (ages 3-5 years)
“Look, I guess my personal reason for programming this show is that I grew up on a little farm and we grew all our fruit and vegetables and our meat. We grew everything, pretty much, that we ate. So to me it’s very normal to know that our food comes from the land. I do wonder, sometimes, if that is the case for most children… and I doubt that it is. So McNirt Hates Dirt is a delightful little tale about a character who thinks dirt is horrible. He meets Gertie who loves dirt because dirt gives life to plants and flowers.
“This is a highly educational show, it’s very musical and it’s really really fun. It’s a very gentle and sweet way of teaching kids where their food comes from, and the value of things like water, soil and light.”
“Side Pony Productions premiered a work, a few years ago now, that brought the audience into the narrative and into performing a play. When the work for adults came out a few years ago, all of us were really excited and impressed with it. So, when I got wind that they were making one for children, based on the phenomenally popular series The Turners by Mick Elliott, I really wanted to have it in Awesome.
“What I like really like about The Turners and about director Zoe Pepper’s work is that she’s turning the form upside down and she’s playing with that form, in a really lovely way. The children actually perform this play, guided by audio cues on headsets. It’s interactive theatre at its best, by one of our local artists. I really like the way that it engages children and I hope that after experiencing Audioplay: The Turners, children will want to go home and make their own theatre show.”
Great Big, Dark and Spooky Book Read (ages 5 and up)
“I don’t want to give too much away about this, because it’s big, it’s dark and it’s spooky. And we all know that kids find ‘spooky’ to be one of the most exhilarating experiences. So this will be an exhilarating and fun experience.
“We’re working with Fremantle Press to launch six extraordinary West Australian books. So those books – Bush and Beyond by Cheryl Kickett-Tucker, Gastronauts by James Foley, Off the Track by Cristy Burne, The Hole Story by Kelly Canby, In the Lamplight by Dianne Wolfer and More and More and More by Ian Mutch – are fantastic books. When you buy a ticket to this, you can choose which book you want. So the cost of your ticket gets you a book. It’s great value.
“The State Library Theatre is going to be dark. It’s going to be spooky. There are going to be authors telling spooky stories. So for those of you who like a little bit of spookiness in middle of day, it’s going to be a cracker of an event. It’s going to be terrifyingly good in fact.”
Ann-Droid (Ages 4 and up)
“Many years ago I was very inspired by the work of 1927, a theatre company from the UK. I’ve always wanted them to make a work for children. As it turns out they are making a work for children with Barrie Kosky, and they will be at the Perth festival this year, which is utterly brilliant. However, I’ve searched the world looking for a similar style of work and I found a company in Hungary, of all places, that creates live theatre that interacts with exquisite animation.
“Ann-Droid: The Wonderful Adventures of Robot Girl is a bit rite of passage story, it’s got a great adventure, it’s about an empowered young woman and what’s not to love about that? And it’s one of those incredibly spectacular shows where the animation and theatre will blow you away, all at once, as they respond to each other. You can expect to go ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ quite a bit in this one.”
Pictured top: Radioplay: The Turners. Photo: David Collins.
28 September – 12 October @ various venues in Perth ·
Presented by AWESOME ·
The 2018 AWESOME Festival will inspire Perth families to get creative this October school holidays. The AWESOME Festival presents a vibrant, curated program of theatre, workshops, music and lots of free hands-on activities for the whole family to enjoy.
Running 28 September to 12 October in Perth.
Make your school holidays AWESOME!
Click here to see the amazing selection of shows, workshops, activities and exhibitions that AWESOME have on offer in 2018 or visit awesomearts.com
Review: Polar Bears Go Up ◆
Awesome Festival, Heath Ledger Theatre, 5 October ◆
Reviewed by Nina Levy ◆
Polar Bears Go Up opened to a small but enthusiastic audience of under-6s and their accompanying adults on Wednesday morning. There’s no question that this whimsical work hits the nail on the head with its target audience.
Created and performed by Eilidh MacAskill and Fiona Manson, Polar Bears Go Up is a simple tale. There’s a tall bear (MacAskill), a small bear (Manson), and a shiny, floating, golden star. When the star escapes into the ether, the polar bears must go… up!
Clad in all manner of furry accoutrements, topped with goggles, MacAskill and Manson are utterly delightful. Back-scratching, tummy-rumbling, spoon-and-cup drumming antics are all highly relatable and entertaining to young viewers and parents. The duo’s cartoon-like facial expressions and gestures lend a touch of slapstick to the proceedings, while Greg Sinclair’s whimsical score turns milk-bottles into pan-pipes and plates into DJ turntables.
The bear-pair come up with increasingly outlandish ways to reach their lofty goal, with plenty of laughs along the way for young and old alike, as they bounce and boogie their way to the top. Sinclair’s evocative soundscape beautifully illustrates the airy, buoyancy of the stratosphere, the rumbling drama of a rocket.
Of course, the best way to judge a work for children is by the opinions of those children. My two-and-a-half year old companion voted with her feet, choosing to remain pressed against the seat-backs of the row in front of us for most of the 50 minute work… as close as she could get to the action. Thoroughly engaged, she had many suggestions for the furry players.
Gentle and magical, Polar Bears Go Up is perfectly pitched for the two to fives.