Saturday, October 5, 2013
Director John Saunders
Designer Mark Thompson
Lighting Designer Martin Kinnane
Sound Designer Rowan Karrer
Dramaturge Caleb Lewis
Animation Andrew Hagan
at The Street Theatre, Canberra, October 1 – 5, 2013.
Reviewed by Frank McKone
Since Monkey Baa makes considerable claims http://monkeybaa.com.au/info/history/) such as Founding members Eva Di Cesare, Sandra Eldridge and Tim McGarry established Monkey Baa to raise the bar of work for young people in Australia..., their production of Emily Eyefinger needs some detailed consideration.
The style of acting and the construction of the storyline can only be described as zany pantomime. Like traditional British pantomime there was nearly as much for the adults to recognise and enjoy in the story of entering the tomb in the Ancient Caves of Tutenkamouse, with its mystery of the curse upon the first to enter, and in the characterisations especially of Great Aunt Olympia and the evil Arthur Crim, as for the target audience of 5 to 10 year olds.
There were some younger children in the audience when I saw it, and they were a bit frightened by some of the sound effects and Arthur Crim’s coming off stage into the audience – and they probably didn’t follow the story very well, especially since the transitions between scenes were often unpredictable. In fact, in academic terms, “zany” could almost be classed as “absurdism”.
On the other hand the older children clearly got the hang of the visual jokes and clowning, and recognised the reactions of the young characters, especially of Malcolm sulking because his mouse researcher father insisted he wear a mouse costume all the time, and of Emily’s feeling that she had lost her identity because her finger with its third eye had become the centre of attention. The fact that they both took control of their lives – Malcolm taking his mouse head off in front of his father, and Emily realising she should keep her eyefinger and even enjoy being different rather than ‘normal’ – was an effective educational message, presented as a natural part of the action without obvious moralising.
On the point of standards (raising the bar), the acting was certainly up to high chin up level in characterisation and movement skills, and I was impressed with the set, props, sound and video design (and technical quality), especially considering the limitations you might expect when touring.
Having seen only one Monkey Baa production, I can’t say anything about the quality of their work overall, but within the range of the style of Emily Eyefinger, this production is certainly at a very good professional standard.