Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pete the Sheep

PETE the Sheep based on the picture book by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

Adapted by Eva Di Cesare, Tim McGarry and Sandra Eldridge.

Directed by Jonathan Biggins. Composer/Lyricist Phillip Scott. Set and Costumes James Browne. Lighting Design Matthew Marshall. Sound Design Kingsley Reeve.

Monkey Baa Theatre Company at The Q. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. September 15-17 2014 

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Cast of Pete the Sheep -  Todd Keys, Jeff Teale, Nat Jobe and Andrew James

It's 10 a.m. on a Tuesday morning and dozens of small children, bursting with wide-eyed excitement, file into The Q at the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre for Monkey Baa Theatre Company's lively and utterly engaging production of Pete the Sheep. Director Jonathan Biggins and composer/lyricist Phillip Scott have created a musical adaptation of Jackie French's and Bruce Whately's highly popular, true blue Aussie story, Pete the Sheep.

The story of new wave shearer Shaun (Jeff Teale) and his sheep sheep Pete (Nat Jobe), the shearer's mate, is given an upbeat, colourful and fun-filled spin by the Wharf Revue duo of Biggins and Scott. Their delightful, quirky sense of the humorous and the absurd lends itself perfectly to this tale of tradition versus innovation. Shaun is the new shearer in the Shaggy Gulley shed. Fresh out of tech and brimming with new ideas, and accompanied by his sheep sheep-shepherder, Pete, Shaun meets his dyed in the wool Ringer boss, Ratso (Andrew James). Ratso and mates Bungo ,played also by Jobe, and Big Bob (Todd Keys) are having none of Shaun's new-fangled shear snipping ways. Rejected and dejected, Shaun is encouraged by Pete to open his own salon and bring a brand new style to shearing sheep. The salon is an instant success and soon sheep and sheepdogs and Big Bob are happy clients. Business is brisk and even ringer Ratso, the best shearer in the land, joins to lend a hand.
Jeff Teale, Andrew James, Todd Keys, Nat Jobe
on James Browne's set for Monkey Baa Theatre Company's production of Pete the Sheep

Like every good children's story there's a moral or two or more and Monkey Baa Theatre Company has pulled out the stops to help the young audience embrace the value of new ideas, accepting differences and triumphing in the face of rejection. Too sophisticated for a three year old? Not according to Biggins in his Director's Note, and judging by the sea of rapt attention, the very young, while delighting in the colour and movement of catchy song and slick, brisk, bouncy dance, could also applaud Shaun's victorious triumph in the face of adversity, thanks to a trusty, savvy sheep.

Nat Jobe as Pete, Jeff Teale as Shaun, Todd Keys as Sheep.

Judging by the audience's reaction and their enthusiastic applause at the finale, Monkey Baa's  production was a sure-fire hit with young and old alike. For the very young, for whom fifty minutes stretched their concentration and the need to visit the loo, it might be worth reading the story to them before they come, although it was obvious from responses to the jokes that many knew the story and were thrilled to see a favourite tale come to life upon the stage in a production, superbly crafted, true to the book and imaginatively brought alive with original music and song and dance (A few bars of Memories from Cats, sung here by Pete the Sheep lent a touch of irony, and the Rocky theme raised the excitement of revealing a bright new shorn wool style)

James Browne's authentic shearing shed setting, complete with rusted galvanized iron and timber ramps and woolshed slats complemented the black singlets, kakhi shorts and akubras, giving the set a truly authentic Aussie bush look. Matthew Marshall's atmospheric lighting design heightened the moments of hilarious comedy, conflict and solitary reflection. In a tour de force of ensemble playing, the four actors adroitly switched with compete conviction from shearers to dogs to sheep and back again, with no danger of confusion under Biggins's tight direction and in the fertile minds of a young audience who understand only too well the art of pretending.

Children's theatre at its very best has the power to capture the hearts and minds of every generation. Monkey Baa's adaptation of Jackie French's and Bruce Whateley's delightful story is testament to the power of story in our lives and the perfect role of the theatre to illuminate the human condition from page to stage.

Nat Jobe as Pete the Sheep, Todd Keys and Andrew James as sheep

P.S. If you happen to have missed this excellent stage adaptation of Jackie French and illustrator Bruce Whateley's delightful story of Pete the Sheep, then you can catch it at the Street Theatre from October 7-11. Don't miss it!