The Race for the Chinese Zodiac

Out of the Box

The Race for the Chinese Zodiac

QPAC Concert Hall

Melbourne Recital Centre Production

12th -15th June 2012

Reviewed by Meredith McLean

Many of us are familiar with the Chinese fable of the twelve zodiac animals. We all have some inkling of how they each came to be part of the twelve, some through trickery, others by kindness or perhaps even strength. Gabrielle Wang’s storybook adaption of the old tale lights up wonderfully on screen, accompanied by the Australian Chinese Music Ensemble and Andy Clark’s frolics and narration.

As part of the Out of the Box festival happening this week at QPAC educating children and making them laugh seems to be the main objective here. The Race for the Chinese Zodiac is one show that certainly creates such an atmosphere. Through some amazing story telling by Andy Clark and Dr. Wang Zheng Ting’s musical compositions many endearing lessons are learnt.

Before Andy Clark took the stage I saw rows upon rows of school children fidgeting and bouncing in their seats. Stressed school teachers hastened for them to sit still and be quiet. I still can’t fathom where they have the energy to be honest. But then Andy Clark’s great voice and ridiculously red shirt caught everyone’s attention. Almost like a ringmaster he brought the animals to life through his voice. When he jumped like a monkey or growled like a dragon the kids were left in hysterics.

No matter what age you may be the story lures you in too quickly to realize. While the animals of the tale could be seen on screen Clark tells us the tale. But the show is not over when the book closes. On the contrary, Clark then instructs everyone to stand up. It’s time to learn what animal you are and how you should move. A couple of little girls in little, green uniforms curiously asked, “You’re a big kid, why are you here?” I couldn’t resist the adorableness. For lack of a better answer I told them I had to find out what my zodiac animal was. Turns out I was “A big smelly monkey”. The kids found this to be absolutely hilarious while Andy Clark insisted everyone dance like a monkey.

It’s not all silliness though. If anything there’s a bit of educational tidbits to be shared. The instruments are explained and everyone attempts to sound out the proper names. Hardly anyone can pronounce them and the kids find the gibberish sounding words to be very amusing.

The music not only intensifies the atmosphere of this classic fable but gives the adults something to appreciate too. The Australian Chinese Music Ensemble dressed in their beautiful robes and smiling under the great lights have my deepest respect. They are the ones brave enough to keep these ancient instruments alive. Though the complexity of the melodies might go over the kids’ heads it’s truly wonderful to listen to.

What I loved about this production is that it had the right balance. On the one hand there is culture absolutely rippling throughout the entire show. That rich kind of history you won’t find very often. However on the other side of the coin this in one of those shows where you can’t help but let your inner kid out while your children laugh along with you. It’s okay to laugh at the silly pig, or hiss like a snake and even dance like a monkey. Your kids will be glad for it because they will no doubt be laughing too.

Illustration by Sally Rippen

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