Fringe Review: The Magic Hat

by Jane

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The Magic Hat is a simple children’s story by Mem Fox.  A magician’s red hat flies through the air before landing on the heads people who transform into animals: a toad, a bear, a baboon, a giraffe.  Drop Bear Theatre have adapted the piece for the stage for children aged three to eight, and it is a delightful and colourful introduction to live storytelling through a variety of different theatrical techniques.

Through shadow puppetry, song, and dance the story repeated throughout the production.  The repetition reinforces the story and the character traits in the minds of the young audience, and by the end the cast is encouraging the audience to yell out the name of the animals as they appear.

A picture book for young children, The Magic Hat relies on visual imagery for the full story to be told, and here with the performance beginning in shadow puppetry, the cast present the story in the most traditionally visual and clear way.  The magic hat flies through the air, it almost lands on a person, and then just as quickly as they’re there, they are replaced by an animal.

While the appearance of a baboon did cause the four-year-old next to me to exclaim “Oh! A horse!”, a simple explanation from her mother quickly set her back on track. The children in the audience (particularly those aged four to six) were constantly excited by the work, and a low chatter was often heard through the theatre as they shared things with their adults, asked questions, or looked for a shielding arm from the bear.

Drop Bear Theatre have used this repetition not only as a learning tool for the children to understand, remember, and respond to Fox’s story, but also to introduce them to theatrical behavior and techniques.  As the cast announces “The End!” the younger audience members are learning from their older partners about clapping for live performers.  Telling a simple story which quickly becomes known makes it easier to view the same text through a lens of a playful song or a silly dance to the beat of drums.

While there was some confusion with cast members declaring “The End!” of the show before the actual end, and a collection of too-young babies in the audience loudly fussing through some of the therefore unheard dialogue, for the most part the audience were engaged and happy to be at the performance.

With artists based in Melbourne and Sydney, Drop Bear Theatre is the creation of Adelaide graduates from Flinders University. While no longer based in Adelaide, it speaks volumes to the strengths of theatre for young audiences in Adelaide that our graduates are inspired to make work for children – and here they make it well.  The Magic Hat shows a strong understanding of tools in children’s development – stories are reinforced through repetition, but focus is maintained through variation in theme and activity – and also a joy and skill in theatre making.  Let’s have them back more often.

Drop Bear Theatre presents The Magic Hat, based on the book by Mem Fox. Devised by Scott Gillespie, Ali Gordon, Sarah Lockwood and Carolyn Ramsey, associate director Tessa Leong, composer Scott Gillespie, lighting designer Sophie Kurlowicz, costume design Keeradenaan, set design Ali Gordon and Caroline Ramsey, scenic art Jenny McCraken, puppetry advisor Jenny Ellis. With Scott Gillespie, Ali Gordon and Carolyn Ramsey. At Holden Street Theatres with the Adelaide Fringe until 4/3/12. More information and tickets.

After the show, I had this conversation with my four-year-old date James:

Me: What was your favourite part of the show?
Him: The toys.
Me: Oh…. What toys?
Him: The ones you get in the show bag.

A lesson for another time, I think.

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