Monday, October 9, 2017


Devised by Liz Lea
Performed by Liz Lea, Liesel Zink and Michael Smith
Lighting design by Roni Wilkinson

Courtyard Studios – Canberra Theatre Centre 6th and 7th October 2017

Performance 7th October reviewed by Bill Stephens

The courtyard studios was transformed into an enchanting undersea wonderland for just four performances of Liz Lea’s latest children’s show “Reef UP !” which was receiving its world premiere prior to touring 35 regional schools in Queensland.

On entering the theatre, audience members received their first surprise when greeted by an amiable, gold-robed King Neptune (Greg Barratt from the GOLD dancers) seated regally in a shadowy grotto. Artfully lit sea-weed, anemones, jellyfish and all manner of other pretty objects decorated the ceiling and walls. Projected on to the rear wall was an endless array of gently swimming undersea inhabitants including sharks and manta rays. A huge, inquisitive Nemo floated happily above their heads. The effect was akin to sitting inside a pretty aquarium, and provided the perfect ambience for the show which was to follow.

 Although designed for a young audience, to deliver an environmental message about the degradation of the ocean and most particularly, the Great Barrier Reef, “Reef UP!” proved so entertaining that the adults in the audience quickly found themselves swept up in the atmosphere, unselfconsciously competing with their young charges to provide the answers for the environmentally focussed questions scattered among the dizzy succession of songs, dances and costume changes.

Liz Lea as some of her characters in "Reef UP !"

Photo: Lorna Sim

Popular songs, carefully chosen to re-inforce the message of the show, “Beyond The Sea”,  “I Will Survive”, “Stop In The Name of Love”, “Think It Over”, and “New York, New York”, and even some Beethoven, seemed perfectly logical in this environment when performed by a Manta Ray duo,  clown fish, Minkie whales or a Crown of Thorns starfish called Priscilla.

As each of the three performers, Liz Lea, Liesel Zink and Michael Smith are experienced professional dancers, the dance sequences, performed in an amazing array of witty and spectacular costumes are particularly delightful. There’s lots of great moves guaranteed to inspire a youthful audience out of their couches when they get home. Who wouldn’t want to try Michael Smith’s joyful “dad dancing” or Liesel Zink’s graceful sweeping dancing, or make lovely patterns with silk fans like Liz Lea?

But each is also a clever educator, and as they perform their songs, dances and rapid costume changes, they also quickly build a rapport with their audience, engaging each directly with facts and questions. Then dealing expertly with the often surprisingly thoughtful responses, which confirm the concern the young audience members feel about the environment around them.

Joyous, entertaining and educational, “Reef UP! “ has an important message to deliver, and judging by the enthusiasm with which the audience at this performance scrambled to take advantage of  the opportunity of a selfie with the cast after the show, its tour of Queensland it is bound to inspire plenty of young enthusiasts to help spread that message.