Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Room on the Broom

CDP presents Tall Stories’ magical musical adaptation of Room on the Broom adapted from the book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.  Original director: Olivia Jacobs.  Music and lyrics by Jon Fiber, Andy Shaw and Robin Price.

Director for Australia: Morag Cross;  Resident Director: Jane Miskovic; stage design by Morgan Large; lighting design by James Whiteside; puppets by Yvonne Stone.  At The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, April 8-12, 2013.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 9

It is a great satisfaction to see a show for young children which is entirely appropriate both theatrically and educationally.  And the business behind the scenes, I discovered, was a complicated mystery in itself.

The opening of the show cleverly takes the audience – young children who cannot be expected to automatically respond to standard conventions – through the transition from ordinary life (where they even had to be taught by their adult minders that each person has just one seat) to the fictional world of theatre.

With house lights still up and children still being brought in and seated, and the stage open but in shadow, the four actors – Andrew Threlfall (understudy for Stephen Anderson): Dog; Josie Cerise: Cat; Crystal Hegedis: Witch; and Damien Warren-Smith: Bird, Dragon – appear without fanfare.  They are playing hide-and-seek (“Coming, ready or not!) among the children in the audience, who become involved in the game, pointing out where someone is hiding.

The set on stage is highly evocative – a large rising full moon seen dimly through a chunky forest, with an owl calling – and the “children”, who are camping out, don sleeping bags and form a sleeping heap on stage; except for excited and fully-awake Josie, who comes out of hiding, realises she must join the others, gets a front-row audience member to help zip up her sleeping bag and joins the heap.  I think this is the first play I can remember which begins with everyone going to sleep, as the house lights fade.  Now everyone, on stage and in the auditorium is silent.  Now the drama can begin.

Already the children watching have learned by osmosis what theatre is all about, and have no trouble going along with the next transition by the actors from the camping children to the witch and her cat flying on the broom stick, through all the characters in costume and puppet form, or even occasionally as briefly out-of-role narrators, and finally back to the sleeping children.  Josie, of course, having played the Witch, puts a spell on the boys to stop them snoring, and everyone, on stage and off, joins in the accompanying spellbinding song to bring this lively entertainment to a thoroughly enjoyable end.

At the same time, of course, the text of the book is teaching rhyme, rhythm and vocabulary, while the story is teaching about positive relationships, scary situations, and even tricks to save friends from fiery dragons.

We adults may know, of course, that even to mention a witch is a strict no-no.  Women were actually accused of riding on a broomstick in the 16th and 17th Centuries in Europe and often had to face their own kind of fiery dragon, but the children here are safe with a witch who has friends and makes room on the broom for them all – even to the point where it breaks in half!

Mentioning Europe is my fashionable “segue” into the mystery of who were these performers, and why was the owl clearly of the English barn variety?  Where was the mopoke or the boobook, or even the tawny frogmouth?  Yet there were the occasional Aussie references:  Damien (I think it was) couldn’t quite read the label on his sleeping bag which seemed to say “flec bag”, but of course we bushwalkers knew it was really “flea bag”.

So I found out from director Jane Miskovic that the UK company Tall Stories, whose team had devised the original adaptation, as well as of the Gruffalo stories, tour their productions world-wide – except that, in Australia, CDP and Tall Stories have negotiated an arrangement where the plays are directed and performed by our local professionals, allowing them to include some humorous Australianisms in the text to complement the exuberant physicality of the Australian acting style.  This makes the show a family affair, including the adults in the fun.

Jane has a degree in education and psychology and several others in the team have similar education and training, including at NIDA.

So it was no wonder that I was seeing a top-class performance.


If you miss the show in Queanbeyan, on 14 April 2013 – 27 April 2013 it will be at
the Playhouse, Sydney Opera House (whose image I have borrowed above).

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