Saturday, September 28, 2013

Elohgulp

Michael Francis Willoughby in Elohgulp written and directed by Chris Thompson.  Composer, John Shortis; sound designer, Ian Blake; set designer, David Hope; lighting designer, Alister Emerson; puppetry director, Catherine Roach.  Jigsaw Theatre Company at Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, September 28 – October 12, 2013.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
September 28

Jigsaw Theatre has a long successful history (see http://www.jigsawtheatre.com.au/content/about-jigsaw-theatre-company) – but this production is not one of its best.

There are elements of the show which are very attractive – the music composition and sound design; the puppets including the rubbish-cart Drits, the suspended jelly-fish-like Assupods, and the three-headed Gludse; and the lighting hung as part of the set to complement the sound effects.

But, despite Chris Thompson’s experience, the script was rather ‘ordinary’: it seemed to be too imitative of a number of children’s stories, mostly written for younger than the middle to upper primary level which Jigsaw was aiming at, while at the same time not handling scary material which these children like, along the lines of Roald Dahl.  The very realistic voice overs at the beginning of Michael’s parents arguing with each other and being angry with the boy for staying too long in the bath, with a basically empty stage, frightened me.

The pacing of the drama was too long-winded.  It took ages for the Drits to establish who and where they were before Michael finally appeared down the plughole from the “bathroom up there”.  Then it took more ages while he lay still on the floor before any action began.  In fact, as a theatrical device, the inability of the Drits and then the Assupods to make decisions and take action was not conducive to moving the drama along.  For this age group, bureaucratic committee meetings are hardly exciting.

Then there were the ducks.  Though cute in themselves, their tendency to pontificate and essentially present didactic statements about what the children in the audience were supposed to learn, to my mind, is the opposite of how educational drama should work.  Rather than be told “You learn a lot of things as you go along.  You learn about having friends you can trust; about telling stories, and passing things on; how some things can’t last forever, and that scary things can be scariest when you are furthest away from them.  And you learn that all these things are important.  Even for a kid.” I would expect the drama to reveal these points through the action and the audience to discover these ideas for themselves.

Finally, I was never sure whether I was supposed to take the matter of “all the good and bad and ugly stuff that gets flushed and washed and swept away down our gutters and sinks and bathtubs” as a reality which we should all feel guilty about; or whether all this, including Michael’s being willing to take the blame, was meant to be just in his imagination while he dreams in the bath to avoid hearing his parents arguing.

Either way, it’s not clear to me what the 8-10 year-olds’ take-home message was supposed to be.  Especially when the story became completely impossible as Michael leapt into what we had to suppose was a sewerage treatment pond.  The relevance of his duck’s grandparent having done this in 1932 was utterly lost on me, though there was talk of a great flood in that year.  Could that have meant that the flood flushed out the nasties in the pond, so the duck survived?  But with no flood now, Michael would have been eaten up by bacteria in no time – though he did have some concern about drowning!

Then, in a video at the end, Michael is back in his bath – but without his ‘Dirty Duck’.  So the visit to Elohgulp really happened, and his duck got left behind?

Sorry to be so nitpicking, but despite the attractive elements and the good quality performances, the production as a whole needs re-thinking in my book


1 comment:

  1. I took my 3 & 6 yr old sons to this today; and your review is spot on, Frank.
    I was extremely disappointed and unfortunately, I suspect I will be far more hesitant to try unknown material from local groups in the future.

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