Posts Tagged ‘barking gecko theatre company

14
Oct
17

Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories

 

Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories

QPAC Presents A Barking Gecko Theatre Company Production

QPAC Playhouse

October 11 – 15 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

How does a story write itself?

 

It only takes a wish…

 

How weird theatre is, or my head while I’m in it. The ancient Greeks recognised the River Styx as the point between this world and Hades, and this with its ferryman, Kharon, is the image that fills my head as we watch Bambert, an impossibly small man with an enormous love for writing, cross over to the other side of the dream.

I cry, and usually I can brush away any tears before the house lights come up but something is different and I let them fall. Poppy hugs me – she’s almost as tall as me and as skinny as my grandmother, her great-grandmother, Ena; I’ve been thinking about her – and we don’t hang around, even though my friend knows this cast and I could race around with her to Stage Door to give every one of them a huge hug to say thanks for stopping by and stopping other things happening in my life for a little while. Katie Noonan’s exquisite cover of River Man, from Elixir days, haunts me for the next few hours, despite Poppy’s insistence that we listen to Next to Normal all the way home – I will keep the plates all spinning – and then, when we get home, the noise of the neighbours’ parties pervades our house, and our little street. This used to be a neat street…

 

 

Children’s stories make us think of other children’s stories, and this one, a Helpmann Award winner in 2016, brings up all sorts of stuff, including my hero, Mr Plumbean, and for some reason (because we get a sense of how simple and complex death is?), a favourite Little Golden Book about the changing of the seasons, The Four Puppies. And always, The Neverending Story. ALWAYS The Neverending Story. Some stories stay with us…

 

Child-like, old man Bambert lives in the tiny attic above Mr Bloom’s grocery store, writing his stories beneath the gaze of his friend, the moon.

 

 

“He realised that all his stories were just words on a page. All these years he thought he was writing himself into the world but the truth was, if Bambert knew nothing of the world then the world knew nothing of him.”

 

One day Bambert sends his stories out into the world, tearing the pages from his book and attaching each to a balloon, with instructions for the reader to send the story back so that he may use the postage stamp to give each story a location.

 

Bambert’s stories are rich with meaning. I enjoy the first one the most, about a headstrong, and socially, politically and environmentally conscious princess looking to appoint the next leader of her kingdom. She sees through the gimmicks of potential suitors who have been asked to give her the key to truth, exposing their flaws and fake news, and we are left to assume that she herself will take the reigns. Frightening tales follow this one, in which a pigeon woman in London, Lady Brompton-Featherly-Poselthwaighte-Huntington-Moore the Third, finds lost and hungry people to add to her collection of living wax figures, another in which two writers will have to put their faith in an imaginary child to escape their prison cell on a ray of light, and a brother and sister who will have to find their way through the stark winter forests of Poland before the Dark Angels (no, not those who frequent the fetish club, but something more like Dementors, or…Nazis), find them and force them into a deep hole in the freezing earth. And finally, it’s the tale of Taruk, whose drawings come to life as he completes them, reinforcing Bambert’s wish that creativity and good choices will change the world.

 

Directed by Dan Giovannoni and Luke Kerridge, who came across a copy of Reinheldt Jung’s book in a London bookstore and carried it with him for years of backpacking around the world before returning home to turn it into this show. (Kerridge’s other favourite book is The Little Prince). In these sophisticated stories, Kerridge recognised Jung’s simple storytelling device, that it’s the children who are the protagonists and the children who can save the world.

 

It’s a much darker show than you might expect to be seeing with the kids, but here are 5 things I noticed during the Friday night performance at QPAC’s Playhouse, which makes me consider how much we need darker stories told in a theatrical context, and how much we need kids to continue taking their parents to experience live theatre.

  1. we need darkness to see the light
  2. kids are more prepared to hear difficult stories than their parents appear to be
  3. kids are more comfortable hearing difficult stories than their parents appear to be
  4. kids and parents experience similar difficulties trying to quietly consume hard candy in boxes
  5. theatres should resist selling hard candy in boxes if they would like to maintain a particular quality to the storytelling and audience experience
  6. parents should resist accompanying their kids to the theatre unless they are going to follow their own advice, including not speaking or using phones during the performance because as well as being distracting to those seated nearby, the performers, who all real people exisiting in real time in front of you, can hear you and see you.

 

Of course most of the kids work out how it works before the house lights have dimmed.

 

 

The magic of Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories is not only in the allegorical tales themselves, but in the telling of them. Igor Sas is the thoughtful, gentle Mr Bloom, who intercepts Bambert’s stories in favour of seeing his small friend’s delight rather than disillusionment with the world. A talented ensemble play the roles required to bring the story characters to life. Tim Watts is Bambert’s gibberish voice and head and heart (and also, Lord Byron and the princess’s tall, gangly, funny father, the king). Amanda McGregor, Jo Morris and Nick MacLaine are exceptional across multiple roles demonstrating their versatility and flair for comedy and Bunraku puppetry.

 

 

Designer, Jonathan Oxlade, has created a beautiful, intimate two-storey set of intricate detail, which we would ideally have seen in the Cremorne Theatre, only somebody probably thought they could sell every Playhouse seat to any production from this award winning company (I would have thought so too). With ever-changing evocative lighting by Chris Donnelly, and a cinematic soundscape and original music by Ian Moorhead, there’s nothing about this show that’s not perfectly crafted and polished for audiences of all ages and sensibilities. I’ve seen nothing on this scale, of this calibre, for young children since Slava’s Snowshow and Wolfe Bowart’s suite of works. We miss so much as adults (and with an older child now), not even trying to get to similar work at QPAC’s Out of the Box festival for under eights or so-called “children’s theatre”. If only we could get to everything, and if only everything was this sweet and enthralling and entertaining. 

 

While you’re at QPAC, drop in to see Puppet People, a free exhibition in the Tony Gould Gallery with extended opening hours during the Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories season:

Saturday 10am – 6.15pm and Sunday 10am – 1.30pm

21
Mar
16

The Rabbits

 

The Rabbits

An Opera Australia and Barking Gecko Theatre Company co-production in association with West Australian Opera.

Commissioned by Perth International Arts Festival and Melbourne Festival.

QPAC

QPAC Playhouse

March 16 – 20 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

'The Rabbits' Barking Gecko Theatre Company / Opera Australia - 2015 Production - 10th February 2015 / Photography © Jon Green 2015 - All Rights Reserved

‘The Rabbits’ Barking Gecko Theatre Company / Opera Australia – 2015 Production – 10th February 2015 / Photography © Jon Green 2015 – All Rights Reserved

The rabbits came many grandparents ago…

What an extraordinary experience, to be offered a taste of The Rabbits during APAM (we saw a delicious 20-minute excerpt), and then be treated to the entire visual and aural feast last week on Opening Night. Commissioned by Perth International Arts Festival and Melbourne Festival, Opera Australia and Barking Gecko Theatre Company assembled some of Australia’s finest talent to create a stage adaptation of John Marsden and Shaun Tan’s picture book (open-hearted Adaptation and Direction by John Sheedy). This is a multi-award winning genre-defying production featuring a detailed score by Kate Miller-Heidke, additional music and arrangements by Iain Grandage, and libretto by Lally Katz. Rachael Maza has been instrumental as Indigenous Consultant. It doesn’t disappoint. However, unlike The Secret River, which also features magnificent music by Grandage, musical direction by Isaac Hayward and a heavy, heavy tale of the displacement and mistreatment of our Indigenous people, The Rabbits feels less optimistic. Poppy, who is nine and so smart, disagrees. She says,

We hear the bird calls in the beginning, and the bird calls at the end sound like we can sort it out. We can have our little piece of nature and they can have theirs. Even better, we can try harder to share the land. And the water. And the sky. In the end everything belongs to no one and everyone. We all live here together now.

the-rabbits-11-2015-jeff-busby-highres

Hollie Andrew who plays Coda, the marsupial who sings The Kite Song when the children are taken away, told Elissa Blake, “My mother was adopted so we don’t know where we are from,” she says. “I don’t know who my people are. So I’m singing on behalf of my ancestors in a lot of ways. I imagine my ancestors are calling out to me. I absolutely dig into it. It’s been a gift as an actor. It’s pretty raw but it’s healed me in a lot of ways, too.

“I love that this show says what has happened and then poses the question, ‘where do we go from here?'” Andrew says. “We need to own what has happened and together find a way to move forward. That’s the beauty of this story.” The story unsettles us and The Kite Song breaks our hearts; it’s devastating and we ache… 

I ache, I ache, I ache inside

the-rabbits-02-2015-toni-wilkinson-high-res

We ache as Kate Miller-Heidke mourns the loss of the children, wailing and calling to all the people and ancestors and spirits and spirit animals ever, everywhere. Her grief is exquisite, something we can never (should never) un-hear. She’s the all-seeing Bird, witness to events and narrator of our tragic tale. Resplendent in white and delicate feathers, glistening with the sky and the stars and the sea and the bright eyes of the whole world, from her central vantage point high above the land, she looks over its inhabitants without the power to put a stop to the desolation brought by the rabbits. Her voice is pure, ethereal, electrical. It has the power to permeate and affect, deeply, audiences of all ages and political persuasions. The only other performer in this country with the gift to bewitch us with her voice in this way is Katie Noonan, and I’d love to see her sing this role too. (We say hi to Katie on our way out of the Playhouse but we have to cut the conversation short in order to honour our commitment to another opening night around the corner…).

The band is slick, though slightly (and suitably) dishevelled, and quite fun, at times in good spirits and at times more sombre as the story dictates, comprising Isaac Hayward (MD and cello, piano & piano accordion), Rob Mattesi (trumpet), Keir Nuttall (guitar and electronics), Stephanie Zarka (bass and tuba). They’re front and centre when a false fire alarm stops the show at the forty minute mark and we wonder if we’ll see the end of it before having to get up and go. The cast and musicians collect themselves after the curtain fails to drop completely, and they resume the show some minutes later. It’s a live-theatre-thing, a reminder that anything can happen, giving us time to cringe for a bit longer after the bawdy pub song, Hop Hop Hooray! 

'The Rabbits' Barking Gecko Theatre Company / Opera Australia - 2015 Production - 10th February 2015 / Photography © Jon Green 2015 - All Rights Reserved

‘The Rabbits’ Barking Gecko Theatre Company / Opera Australia – 2015 Production – 10th February 2015 / Photography © Jon Green 2015 – All Rights Reserved

The rabbits are bombastic, very British, Gilbert & Sullivan style operatic singers, each with his own quirky personality. (Kaneen Breen as the Scientist is especially memorable). The marsupials on the other hand, are grounded contemporary music theatre/pop vocalists (I’d love to hear more from Marcus Corowa); they remind me stylistically of The Lion King and Disney generally. Friends tell me after the show that this combination isn’t their favourite aspect of the production but I like the stark contrast, and I can appreciate that it’s part of the strategy now, whether or not it was originally intended as such, to draw a more diverse audience.

rabbits4

Visually too, it’s a stark and sumptuous production, beautifully conveying the essence of this great Southern land, its creatures, its colours, its textures, its heat, and all its hope and hopelessness. The production looks enough like the pages of the book to satisfy fans of Tan’s original illustrations, and yet it’s not so immense and grotesque as to frighten..the children. If we’re honest – and we are – I still find the original illustrations quite frightening. (Designer Gabriela Tylesova, Lighting Designer Trent Suidgeest, Sound Designer Michael Waters). The final image particularly has me holding my breath, desperate for the marsupial and the rabbit to step across – or around – the reflecting pool to embrace one another, or grasp each other’s hands or something but I know they’ll stay on opposite sides, staring at their own reflections, because it’s the final awful (hopeful?) image from the book.

The Rabbits, in story and style, is truly for all people. If only we can learn from this rich and challenging sixty-minute tale, and from so many more, and move forward together, hand in hand. This feeling, long after the curtain has properly come down, is the power of theatre, of storytelling, and why our stories must be told and treasured, and questioned, and told again and again.

Who will save us from the rabbits?

the_rabbits_16_event

Comments on (the book) The Rabbits 

The parallels with a real history of colonisation in Australia and around the world are obvious, and based on detailed research, in spite of the overt surrealism of the imagery and the absence of direct references. It was named Picture Book of the Year by the Children’s Book Council, which in part generated some controversy due to it’s confronting themes, and was attacked on several occasions for being ‘politically correct propaganda’, but only by right wing conservatives of course. In spite of this (or because of it), the book went on to win numerous awards in Australia, the US and UK, and is studied widely in secondary schools. It would seem that some of my concepts and designs were unacknowledged inspiration for a section of the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, although I’ve never been able to find out if this is true.

One reason for the initial controversy is that The Rabbits is a picture book, and therefore thought to be children’s literature, and wrongly assumed to be didactic, whereas it had been originally conceived as a book for older readers, and generally difficult to categorise. Some children may get a lot out of it, but generally it defies most picture book conventions and is not necessarily a good choice for pleasant bedtime reading!