Monday, March 9, 2015

JACK AND THE BEANSTALK at the Adelaide Festival 2015

Jack and the Beanstalk.

Written and directed by Chiara Guidi. Creative Producer Jeff Stein. Artistic Associate Scott Wright. Music by Trevor Brown and Veren Grigorov. Set, Puppet and Costume Design Erth Visual and Physical.  Presented by Societas Raffaello Sanzio. Commissioned by Campbelltown Arts Centre in association with the Adelaide Festival. Odeon Theatre. Norwood. February 28 - March 8 2015

Skye Gellman as Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk. Photo Heidrun Lohr

Visually, Societas Raffaello Sanzio’s re-imagining of the original English fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk, is stunning. Erth Visual and Physical under the direction of Scott Wright have used dozens of cardboard boxes, and earthy brown costumes to capture the character of a medieval village and its people. A faceless woman conjures Jack’s dreamscape, rousing him and his mother to action. A cardboard cow’s head is enough to suggest Milky White and musicians Trevor Brown and Veren Grigorow provide atmosphere, suspense and surprise on flute, drum, violin and saxophone. In a packed Odeon Theatre in suburban Norwood, children gaze on, bewitched by the magical use of secret windows, puppetry and Jack’s amazing gymnastic antics on the beanstalk to the Ogre’s lair. They marvel at Jack’s agility and the unexpected revelation of secret windows, tunnels and entrances within the tower of boxes. Adults and children alike are familiar with this popular fairytale and willingly enter into the spirit of audience participation, as young members of the audience eagerly volunteer to be part of the orchestra, or adventurers, brave enough to enter the Ogre’s towering palace.
Visually, this production is a triumph. Dramatically, it is far less gratifying. Director, Chiara Guidi’s script is less engaging. It is functional, driving the action, but failing to give individual depth to the characters. As a result they are disappointingly one dimensional. Similarly, audience participation appears gratuitous. Certainly, there is no shortage of young volunteers, brave enough to wave goodbye to family and friends and venture into the unknown, only to appear some time later dressed in simple costume and compliant with the faceless woman’s instruction. The invitations continue and the dramatic flow falters as an audience watches on while the volunteers are given their instructions. Participation requires purpose that will heighten the understanding of the children. It is not enough to simply throw beans upon the stage, scream out for Jack or climb into the set and dress up in costume.

Again Erth comes to the rescue with the appearance and defeat of the frightening Ogre and the spectacular toppling of the structure. Erth’s puppetry remains consistently engaging with the appearance of the goose that lays the golden egg, which is how good fairytales must end- with a happy ending. Sadly, I am left unsatisfied by Societas Raffaello Sanzo’s retelling of the age-old tale. A child deserves writing that will embellish a deeper understanding of human behavior; acting, informed by motive, and direction that will give participation purpose.
Skye Gellman with the Golden Goose and volunteers from the audience.
Photo by Heidrun Lohr
When I asked for a programme, I was told that they had not arrived. Shame. That may have provided greater insight into the concepts behind a production that was not without virtue, but without the detail that should attend it.