No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Jude Henshall

Review: Pinocchio

With guest reviewer Aria Noori, aged 12.

Jane’s review:

Pinocchio – the little wooden boy whose nose grows when he lies – isn’t quite so little in this production from Windmill and the State Theatre Company. Nathan O’Keefe in the title role towers over many of his cast mates, but carries it with such childlike joy – and young manipulative ignorance – that the almost awkward height of the boy is endearing.

In 2009, Windmill’s last big-scale family musical production was The Wizard of Oz, building off the established stage show (in turn based on the film) with new musical arrangements and  a bizarrely twisted lens. While the production toured to Sydney, a much larger scale tour was planned before the rights were stripped by virtue of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production opening on the West End.

Partially to avoid a similar loss, this Pinocchio doesn’t derive from Disney’s 1940 animation, but is a new version built off Carlo Collodi’s original stories. Created by director Rosemary Myers with writer Julianne O’Brien, Windmill have shifted the emphasis of the work off the nature of lies which we all associate the story with, onto lessons of greed and love.

Myers and her creative team mix both flashy stage technology with obvious and delightful theatre trickery. Geoff Cobham puts on just as much as a light show we’ve come to expect, with his trademark balance of creating lighting which is at once obvious but manages to fit perfectly within the action and the rest of the design. Jonathon Oxlade’s stage includes several revolves, where much of the scenic design and transitions are created by projected imagery (video designer Chris Moore) onto an otherwise blank wooden structure representing a tree stump.

It’s the moments when the play fully invests in the unadorned theatrics of the affair and the environment, though, where it truly comes alive.  As Geppetto (Alirio Zavarce) “carves” Pinocchio out of a tree trunk, we simply have O’Keefe hidden in a wooded tube, which drops down in layers before the boy is reveled.  As Geppetto searches for Pinocchio out at sea, we see Zavarce’s legs sticking out from under the row-boat, as pieces of blue material spin around the base of a revolve. Cricket (a puppet operated and characterised by Sam Routledge) frequently breaks the fourth wall and makes jokes often more about the audience and the act of watching a play than the play itself. These moments are also embellished as the band, rabbit ears sticking up over the pit, are joined by cast members, costumes and all, to build up the sound.

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Review: Grug

L-R Grug, Nathan O'Keefe, Lucas Stibbard, Cara and Jude Henshall. Windmill Theatre. Photo Tony Lewis

This review originally appeared on Australian Stage Online

Ted Prior’s children’s series, Grug, has been loved by tens of thousands of Australian children since originally published over the period from the late 70s to the early 90s. Republished in 2009, and now with the help of Windmill Performing Arts and QPAC’s Out Of The Box Festival, a new generation of children are being exposed to Grug and his adventures.

Nathan O’Keefe, Lucas Stibbard and Jude Henshall operate the puppets in the show – designed by Jonathan Oxlade and remaining faithful to Prior’s illustrations – and all give delightful performances. The show, directed by Sam Haren, draws from several of Prior’s books, starting with telling of the creation of Grug (he began life as the top of a Burrawong tree which fell to the ground, and grew stripes, legs and a face) and following Grug as he has fun and solves simple problems.

Stories included Grug and His Garden, where Grug discovers a snail eating his garden, so he plants more so they can both be happy; Grug Goes Fishing, including a very funny sequence in which a goggled O’Keefe operates fish, seaweed and a crab; Grug Plays Soccer, where Grug and friend Cara the carpet snake (operated by the wonderfully expressive Henshall) play a game; and Grug Learns to Dance, in which the children in the audience all learn “The Grug”.

A simple narrative structure is used to introduce each story: O’Keefe is delivering parcels to Grug when he discovers they are all empty. So one-by-one he takes some items from a bag which seemingly belongs to an audience member, places them in the parcel, and they magically transform into the catalyst for the story: water from a drink bottle and a small toy fish become a fishing-rod, an ordinary apple grows into a giant apple. Similarly, the individual stories all end with the same structure, as Grug goes to sleep after his adventure.

This simple device meant the stories were all clearly defined, and more than that, it allowed constant surprise and anticipation as to what would come next.

The short show started late as late arrivals drifted in, causing some of the children who had been waiting to become restless, but once the show started they were enamored. Three-year-old Ruby couldn’t sit still through the show – not for being bored, but because she was straining to get closer to see what Grug and her personal favourite, the snake Cara, were doing. At the end of the show, the children were all invited to come a bit closer and say goodbye to Grug and his friends.

Windmill has again created a show in which children can wonderfully discover the magic and the fun and play in theatre. A show for Windmill’s youngest audience, one- to five-year-olds, the adults in the audience were having almost as much fun as the kids – both through watching the play, and watching the children become engrossed in the story and the characters. And, due to demand, a special performance for “original” fans of the books has been added to the Adelaide season: I certainly enjoyed rediscovering a childhood friend on stage.

Grug plays at the Forge Theatre, Maryatville High School, until April 24th, followed by a season in Studio 1, QPAC, from June 8-13th as a part of the Out Of The Box Festival.