16
Jan
16

The Tiger Who Came to Tea

 

The Tiger Who Came to Tea

QPAC & Andrew Kay in association with Nick Brooke & Kenny Wax

QPAC Playhouse

January 14 – 17 2015

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

Boy: Look! It looks like real life. Why is it real life?

Mum: That’s what theatre is. It’s real life, it’s not film or TV.

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It seemed appropriate to precede The Tiger Who Came to Tea with High Tea. We visited a pretty, pretty old haunt of mine, Brisbane Arcade’s Room With Roses

High Tea was nice, though not the nicest. (Next time we’ll try the option closest to QPAC it’s my preferred overnight accommodation – check out the Showstopper Package – at Bacchus at Rydges). We consider ourselves High Tea connoisseurs and have decided it’s high time we start reviewing some of our dining and sipping experiences too.

After reading our tea leaves – there is dancing and a ship in the future – we made our way on foot via Victoria Bridge to QPAC. On a cooler day this is a fine walk but the day was hot!

Sometimes we suffer for our art, and sometimes we suffer for another’s.

Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea is a well-loved children’s picture book. Poppy and I know it well and even before watching the trailer for this production I had my suspicions that it would be most suitable for much younger children. My suspicions were proved correct.

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Having enjoyed more live shows by the age of nine than many adults have done, Poppy is the most genuine, generous, wildly enthusiastic audience member anybody could hope to have in a theatre. And her enthusiasm is contagious. With the opening minutes of The Tiger Who Came to Tea involving a welcome-to-our-theatre song and a naming-and-stepping-into-our-roles moment, I whispered to Poppy, “I think we were right. I think they’ve made the show for little ones.” She smiled and shrugged, and got involved in the bright and brassy storytelling, and singing and dancing anyway. Poppy is the perfect +1!

We had read the book again and I noticed Sophie wears Mary Janes so I thought it was the perfect opportunity to wear my new Mary Jane school shoes and my Ted Baker dress.

The tiger doing his little dance and bowing was funny. I liked the set up of the house. It was all neat and tidy until the tiger came.

 While the overall tone is slightly condescending, even for very little ones, I think my aversion to the particular theatrical style comes from being spoilt rotten when it comes to Australian made theatre for young people. Even when we see a “traditional” pantomime it’s often performed with a knowing wink, rather than something more self-indulgent and apparently “British” (whatever that actually means. I’ve never seen British theatre in Great Britain). But when the latter is the first or more frequent experience in a young person’s life I fear that their theatre-going may be short lived! Luckily, in Poppy’s lifetime, she has already experienced traditional pantomime as well as the humble wonder and pure magic of more than one production from Wolfe Bowart and Cirque du Soleil, and from our very own Dead Puppet Society, Company 2, Circa, Flipside and shake & stir. 

I adore the tiger in his ruffled fur; he’s life-sized, just gorgeous, with a gentleman’s fine manners (well, apart from turning up uninvited to tea!). But I wish he would speak, as he does in the book. To score bonus points with the mums he might have a Rum Tum Tugger type voice to complement his slinky walk and surprisingly poised dance moves. Despite some dreadful lyrics (yummy scrummy sausages, anyone?), the songs are upbeat and very catchy, the dance moves are fun for the under eights and the kitchen magic doesn’t disappoint. One of my favourite tricks though, features Daddy twirling centre stage to get into his jacket and catching toast in his briefcase as he races out the door, late to work.

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It takes a long time to get to tea at 4 o’clock! First we must sit through breakfast, elevenses and lunch (Sophie and her mummy appear to do nothing but eat delicious treats in the kitchen all day!), as well as visits from the postman and milkman. 

The milkman was funny with all his treats on offer and the only thing they needed was the milk, which he carried on his back but had forgotten about. It was funny when he turned around to reveal the milk after they’d said eighty times they needed milk.

(Strange, in an era of helicopter paranoid parenting that each time the doorbell rings Mummy is the one who insists they had better open the door to see who it can be and the third time, with her hands full, insists Sophie answer the door to an unexpected visitor all by herself).

Each visitor is silly and clownish, as Daddy is, making the girls – unfairly I think – the smart, together characters. With the exception of the tiger, who is strangely simultaneously sly and sweet, they are all wide-eyed and completely OTT. Also, the names of the actors do not appear anywhere (no program, no foyer board). It seems a contradiction, given their efforts to establish that they are indeed actors telling the story from the book. 

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The Tiger Who Came to Tea is an Olivier Award nominated adaptation (Writer and Director David Wood OBE) and it’s come to us following a smash hit season on London’s West End, but I think it’s missed something in the move from story to stage, at least for non-English audiences. With an intelligently talking tiger, a less condescending tone and truer treatment of the material, this production might enjoy much broader appeal. Despite my reservations, of course Poppy enjoyed every minute of it so by all means, take the older siblings of your little one. 

Any live show is an opportunity to take care dressing for the occasion, and to visit the theatre, practice a little patience and polite conversation with family, friends and FOH staff, get lost for a little while in the storytelling, and talk for hours afterwards about what we’ve experienced there.

I liked the costumes. The singalong songs were fun. The disco ball was funny, creating stars for everyone as they walked to the cafe. I didn’t understand why they had to keep doing the “tick tock tick tock” to show the passing of time. I guess it was like one big long scene without blackouts.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea has basically received a mini panto makeover and it’s packaged beautifully for an Early Childhood audience. It comes complete with a copy of the picture book and a plush tiger toy, each sold separately in the foyer. Just TRY walking away without either. This production is perfect fare for under eights and anybody generous and patient enough to take them to see it (final performances tomorrow at 10am & 12pm), but I challenge you, especially if your kids are 6+ to look twice at what’s being offered at our premier performing arts precinct (and at your local council venues) and make an effort just as often to choose a home-grown production.

QPAC’s Out of the Box Festival for children 8 years and under returns 21 to 28 June 2016. Join the waitlist here.

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