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A lesson in overcoming life’s challenges

Junior review: Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, Moominpappa at Sea ·
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, December 5 ·
Review by Ollie Halusz, age 13 ·

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre has kicked off its 2019 season with a remount of Moominpappa at Sea, adapted from the book by Tove Jansson. The play is about a family, the Moomins, who leave their home to find a different life out at sea, finding comfort on an island with a lighthouse. When they first arrive, they each go off to do their own separate things, discovering both challenges, such as a big storm, trying to find food and a lighthouse that doesn’t work; and delights, such as a beautiful forest, hundreds of fish and fresh soil for a garden. This play goes to show that anyone can overcome any challenges life throws at you.

Puppets from Moominpappa at Sea
The Moomins. Photo:  Jessica Wyld

The lighting, by Elliot Chambers, is effective, transporting the audience to the story’s ocean setting. The sequence with the moon is particularly evocative. The puppets, designed and made by Leon Hendroff, are well made. One particular character, the Groke, reminded me of the Dementors from the Harry Potter series. There are three versions of the Groke – represented by a cloth, a puppet and the performer, Michael Barlow, who wears the cloth to became the character.

Barlow, Spare Parts’ associate director, plays many roles in this production including voicing all of the characters as well as narrating, and was very clear and entertaining.

Leon Hendroff’s set is a miniature version of an island, featuring a lighthouse at one end. Barlow takes advantage of the blank island, using his body and language to describe the setting of a forest, and the ocean surrounding the island. Smoke enhances both the eeriness of this island in the middle of the ocean and the character of the Groke.

Lee Buddle’s music composition and sound effects help to create the sense of the environment and atmosphere.

From my perspective as a 13 year old, I didn’t find the play as enjoyable as I might have a few years ago, but it definitely would suit ages 3-7, and is an ideal outing for parents and grandparents with young children, during the Christmas holiday break.

Moominpappa at Sea plays Spare Parts Puppet Thearte, 14 Jan – 2 Feb.

Read “senior critic” Rosalind Appleby’s review of Moominpappa at Sea.

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Three actors dressed in costume for The Gruffalo's Child
Children, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Joyful storytelling in Gruffalo sequel

Review: CDP Theatre Producers, The Gruffalo’s Child ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, Heath Ledger Theatre, November 21 ·
Review: Robert Housley ·

Toddler tears in less than five minutes and pierced chambers of the inner ear from a crying baby could not douse the enjoyment of The Gruffalo’s Child, a slick production from accomplished touring company CDP Theatre Producers.

Nor could it dampen the enthusiasm of its wonderfully cohesive cast, comprising Jade Paskins, Madison Hegarty and Skyler Ellis.

It was just another day at the office for children’s theatre targeted at the 3+ age group, as it was for accompanying parents and grandparents.

Oh, for the afternoon sleep.

For the most part the whipper-snappers were just as fixated on this stage adaptation of the immensely popular eponymous children’s book as they have been on the book itself (and as they were on The Gruffalo, of which this book and production are sequels). My neighbouring grandmother and her four-year-old grandson even brought the hard copy sequel along for a quick read before the show.

The real joy of this production is in its story telling, with whip-smart direction from Olivia Jacobs (with associate director Liesel Badorrek) moving the action along at a pace to keep the youngsters engaged.

The cast also fill their roles perfectly. Paskin’s Child beautifully captures the essence of the Gruffalo’s inquisitive daughter on her plight to find the Big Bad Mouse in the Deep Dark Wood.

Hegarty deftly plays narrative guide, wafting through the play with sound effects and movement, and joining in the occasional ensemble songs (music and lyrics by Jon Fiber and Andy Shaw; additional lyrics by Olivia Jacobs and Robin Price; choreographer Morag Cross; associate choreographer Luanna Priestman).

Ellis steals the show somewhat, in an actor’s dream role, playing multiple characters from the snoring Gruffalo to the salesman Fox. His radical change of voice for each character and the stunning companion costumes show both his considerable talent and that of designer Isla Shaw (puppet design by Yvonne Stone).

Like all of the best children’s theatre, the kids are encouraged to be part of the action in this production, and Wednesday’s audience spontaneously complied: clapping, singing and generally responding to invitations to get involved.

The simple set of truncated, leafless trees is seamlessly modified to accommodate the various scenes and disguise the numerous on-stage costume changes.

Lighting changes (design by James Whiteside) are kept to a minimum throughout so the kids can see all of the action all of the time while not making the Deep Dark Wood so deep or so dark.

Sleep, little one, sleep.

The Gruffalo’s Child is performed until December 2.

Junior review ·
Review by Isabel Greentree, age 9 ·

Many children may have read the story of The Gruffalo’s Child or seen the movie, but none are like this amazing stage performance. CDP Theatre Producers’ musical version of The Gruffalo’s Child, directed by Olivia Jacobs and performed by Madison Hegarty, Skyler Ellis and Jade Paskins, is a fun-filled hour of entertainment.

At the start, three children are playing in the snow and they begin to tell a scary story about the Gruffalo, but are interrupted by some loud snores. We meet the Gruffalo and his child when he is telling her a story about the Big Bad Mouse. He gives her the Stick Man to give her courage. When he is asleep, the Gruffalo’s Child tries to play hide and seek with the Stick Man but eventually gets bored and sets out on an adventure to find the Big Bad Mouse.

She meets several animals including the Snake (throwing a party), the Owl (giving flying lessons) and the Fox (trying to sell everything). Each meeting with an animal involves a song. In the end, the Gruffalo’s Child meets a mouse who tells her he is a friend of the Big Bad Mouse and manages to scare her away.

The set included spooky trees with branches shaped like long fingers. There was a wide yellow moon behind the trees, glowing gently. The costumes were clever and effective.

My favourite part was when the mouse nearly wakes up the Gruffalo with her squeaking. I also enjoyed the way the Gruffalo’s Child could never quite keep up with the dancing. There were lots of jokes and funny parts for adults and children alike. The very young children in the audience really enjoyed it too. I really liked the play and think it is suitable for all ages. Go and see it while you can!

The Gruffalo’s Child is performed until December 2.

 

Photo: Heidrun Lohr

 

 

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Tech wizardry doesn’t deliver

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.

The dovetailing of live and animated action is neatly done, but by then the kids were distracted.

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.

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A girl with a red head band hugging a man dressed as a piece of paper.
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A must-see for all ages

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!

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

Read our “senior” review here.

Pictured top are Holly Austin, as Dot, and Adriano Cappelletta, as Russel.

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A woman wearing a clown nose, dancing with a shadow
Children, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Finding light in melancholy

Awesome Festival review: Rachael Woodward, Valentine ·
PICA Performance Space, 1 October ·
Review by Claire Trolio ·

It’s not often that grief and loss are central themes in theatre for children, but these are the concepts at the core of Rachael Woodward’s Valentine, which premiered at PICA this week, as part of the 2018 Awesome Festival.

On one hand, Valentine is your typical children’s theatre show, complete with fairytale-like narration, mesmerising puppetry and slapstick performance style. But it’s the raw and literal way the work deals with loss that surprises. The titular character loses her grandfather and, in the process, loses her heart. It’s close to home for most adults and for Woodward as well. The character of Grandpa is an amalgamation of her own grandparents.

Brought to life through a combination of clowning and shadow puppetry, the work sees Valentine (played by Woodward) alone on stage, while Grandpa (puppeteer Rhiannon Petersen) exists as a shadow behind a curtain, along with the scenery. Petersen and Woodward perform with perfect synchronicity, like cogs in a well-oiled machine.

With bold, black and white images, and red accents, the simple set is charming. Shadows run seamlessly, and were relished by my junior companions. The show is interactive in parts, an excellent device to use in a room full of children. Comedy is another valuable resource in children’s theatre and thankfully there is humour here, too, bracketing the sorrow. As the subject matter would suggest, Valentine is really very sad.

It is Woodward’s charm on stage, however, that gives the work its punch. She captivates audiences young and old with her engagement, range of emotion and honesty, all of which are conveyed without speech.

As an adult watching Valentine, I found it heart wrenching. I was a little uneasy about how a room full of children would react when confronted with such real and intense emotion, but the young audience members drew on the happy moments. They adored the interactive elements; a simple game of catch with members of the audience was an unexpected highlight.

Despite the melancholic themes, my young friends savoured the comedy and saw the lightness in the performance. And that sums up the lesson that Valentine hopes to teach us, that shutting your heart to pain and sadness means that you also miss all the warmth and happiness in the world. We have to embrace the full spectrum of our feelings, because then we have a life worth living.

Although Valentine‘s two show run is finished, the Awesome Festival runs until October 12. 

Pictured top are Rachael Woodward and and Rhiannon Petersen in “Valentine”.

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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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Male dancers playing hopscotch outside
Children, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Bite-sized intro, out-sized delight

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!

Simon Tedeschi playing the piano
No shortage of jokes: Simon Tedeschi

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.

Pianist and Prankster plays the Octogon Theatre 29 September, 10.30am and 12.30pm.

Read a review of Pianist and Prankster by junior critic Ollie Haluszkiewicz
(age 13).

Awesome Festival runs until October 12, at Perth Cultural Centre, with opening events at UWA until September 29. 

Get the lowdown on the Awesome Festival from its Artistic Director Jenny Simpson.

Pictured top: Swiss dance duo Game Theory, who will be playing Perth Cultural Centre next week, 2-7 October.

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Street theatre
Calendar, October 18, Performing arts, September 18, Visual arts

The 2018 AWESOME Festival

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

More info: www.awesomearts.com

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