A TRUE BLUE BREW OF WOMBAT STEW
Wombat Stew. Based on the book written by Marcia K Vaughan. Illustrated by Patricia Lofts. Stage adaptation and lyrics by Gary Young. Original Score and arrangements by Paul Keelan. Garry Ginivan Attractions and the Canberra Theatre Centre. Canberra Theatre July 24 – 26, 2014.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
|The cast of WOMBAT STEW|
Whenever a Garry Ginivan Attractions show comes to town, you know you’re in for a top-notch production for children. With previous successes such as My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch and Possum Magic, Ginivan has earned an enviable reputation as the leading producer of dinky-di, true-blue stage adaptations of popular Aussie children’s books. His latest offering of Wombat Stew, based on a story by Marcia K Vaughan, is no exception. Every drop of cunning trickery from Vaughan’s story of the bushland animals’ attempts to rescue a wombat from the dingo’s stewing pot is added to Gary Young’s delectable recipe of music, songs, dance, mime and puppetry to the utter delight of the young audience.
Young’s adaptation uses the clever device of a strolling company of players to enact the story of Wombat Stew. It is an old, familiar tradition that works exceedingly well, and readily invites the young audience to use their imagination and accept the conventions of actors playing out Dingo, Platypus, Echidna, Lizard, Emu and Koala. The Stage Manager introduces the Clap Like Thunder Players, a motley band, and roles are apportioned to the members of this travelling troupe, in an opening scene, not unlike Shakespeare’s depiction of the Mechanicals in A Midsummer Night ‘s Dream, in which characters plea for their favourite part and demonstrate their prowess. Kookaburra and Wombat are presented as puppets.
A lively, fun-loving ensemble of very versatile and adroit actors enter the colourful storybook world of Wombat Stew with all the elan of seasoned professionals. Children’s Theatre is serious business, demanding the highest standards and challenging performers to enchant and excite. Clap Like Thunder Players don’t disappoint. Young’s adaptation pulls out all the stops with larger than life characters, catchy musical numbers, slick choreography and lashing of audience participation. I have always been sceptical of token audience participation, but in this production, before a large school audience of young primary age children the company encourages purposeful involvement, that never becomes gratuitous or gets out of hand. It’s all good fun, and it holds the kids’ focus as they happily engage with a story that many of them could possibly have recited by heart.
Mums and Dads will have just as much fun watching their kids’ enjoyment of seeing a favourite storybook come to life in a delightful, funny and energetic way upon the stage. And like all good tales for young and old alike there is the moral of Clap Like Thunder’s play that every child will cherish: Look after your friends.
So next time you hear that “gooey, brewy, yummy, chewy Wombat Stew is coming to a theatre near you, get on down and take the kids to the best Children’s Theatre show in town. It’s a fail-safe recipe for a feast of fun entertainment.