Posts Tagged ‘the rabbits

27
Jun
18

The Arrival

The Arrival

QPAC’s Out of the Box & Red Leap Theatre

QPAC Playhouse

June 26 – July 1 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

A man flees his homeland and journeys across vast seas to arrive in a strange, wondrous

new world where giant ships fly through the air and curious creatures abound. There he

negotiates dazzling architecture, bizarre foods and foreign tongues to build a new life. On his

travels the man meets fellow migrants, each with their own tale to tell.

 

 

There are no notes for a relaxed performance, though that’s what it is, with hundreds of kids spilling into the seats in the Playhouse on the first day of QPAC’s Out of the Box children’s festival, asking questions already, and right through the show. And this is the way theatre used to work, and needs to continue to work, allowing us to be involved and completely immersed and alive, feeling every moment. For a kid, more often than not, this means feeling out loud, speaking their mind in the moment, and not accepting being told, “Shhh…we’ll talk about it later”, although if you’ve been following for a few years you’ll know that that is precisely what I’ve told Poppy, now twelve, for years of attending theatre with adult audiences. (I care less now about the glares). I love the children’s chatter during the shows that are especially created for them. I also love when they are captivated and silent, and in this show there are those magical moments too, when a hush descends over the entire audience of under-eights. But not for long! It’s too interesting and exciting!

 

What’s happening? What is that? Where is he going? Why can’t they be with him? Is the tiny ship the ship he’s on? Why can’t they go on the ship too? Is this a true story? Not all of it is understood, but there is a basic family unit separated and eventually reunited, and in between there is survival, friendship, war, horror and a new home.

 

More questions. This time from Poppy, afterwards. Why can’t we see Air Play? Why can’t we see everything? Why did he have to leave his home? Why couldn’t his family go together, stay together? Did the beautiful origami bird letter reach them? Was it even a letter? Money? Was it his love being sent symbolically across the ocean? This last, not as clear as it might have been, unless of course you’ve recently read the book, which Poppy had not. If you’ve not looked at the book recently either, or never looked at it, watch this brilliant animation. I had shared it with ten-year-olds at one school before we wrote about our favourite images, and created leaving and arriving freeze frames. At another school I was asked not to use the book again, it was too much to discuss. “We don’t have time to talk about that.” 

 

Adapted by Kate Parker and Julie Nolan, and directed by Nolan, this outstanding production, like Shaun Tan’s award winning graphic novel, comprises a series of incredible images, created by bodies, and the muted colours and textures they wear and through which they weave. Set pieces slide, and fold in and out and onto themselves, offering a semblance of a pop-up storybook on stage, perfectly lit. Scenes and moods and emotions shift seamlessly in curious exploration of a whole new life and the wonderment of living it, and the challenge and contentment that comes with communicating and connecting with other living beings. 

 

 

To have The Arrival of the title, we must first have a departure. This is a poignant goodbye, preceded by the opening image of the three as one – a perfectly balanced family trinity, clutching each other in a lifted embrace before they separate, to be seen as three individuals, each with their own feelings and ways of working out the world. There is a long journey and a ship sails by, beyond the action, just as a suitcase ship is constructed downstage, in front, in the real-life world of the play. The kids get it. Perspective 101. Performers become migrants, and make a porthole of their arms, and we fully accept the style of the show now – I remind Poppy that she saw something like it for the first time in Wolfe Bowart’s beautiful works, including Letter’s End and La La Luna; his is some of my favourite visual/children’s theatre ever – combining live performance and physical theatre, puppetry, projections, silhouettes and shadows, an evocative soundscape and original music. Adults and kids alike marvel at various inspired aspects of Red Leap’s storytelling, even something as simple as swaying together to create the shared trepidation of the travellers and the movement of the ship. With only the faint hope of finding more than a day’s work, it’s the opening of Les MiserablesAt the End of the Day, played out in silent slow motion on a boat. Birds fly overhead, heralding a strange new land, and crying freedom and joy and flight and hunger and fear. Of course, that depends on who you’re asking.

 

 

The walking fingers of performers, representing the newcomers’ insignificance as much as the figures themselves, hurry along a gangplank, which rests between the suitcase ship and an official looking person, standing formidably and stamping passports, allowing them passage across the bridge to a new world. A projected image seems to be the shape from the book, which is a beautiful, spot-the-difference moment with children if you have a copy at home or at school; it’s the towering, hand-shaking figures in their boats, but it’s not as clear as the Statue of Liberty would be (and how clear is her message at the moment, anyway?), and perhaps it’s a missed opportunity to incorporate another amazing design feature, as The Rabbits had its central tower of earth. Perhaps not.

 

 

A hot air balloon is revealed before it’s miniaturised, and our man continues his journey, looking over a vast new city. This means of transportation is gentle and other-worldly, like Dorothy’s intended way home, or Charlie’s Great Glass Elevator once it’s crashed through the factory ceiling. There are oohs and ahhs all around us. We see seasons pass, and the man is rained on, snowed on, each element initially indicated by the actions of the ensemble, clustered around him, reaching and clicking fingers in the air, and more reaching, fingers pinching snowflakes, unintentionally making the “okay” sign because (the boy behind me), “Look! Everything will be okay, don’t worry, Mum”, and (Poppy beside me), “Surely someone will be kind enough to give him a home.” And someone is. The new home is tiny and strange, with strange things in it! The ensemble members become a hat stand, a shower, and the puppeteer of a stray creature, a new best friend. A wonderful moment sees the actors react to a spray of water from the shower, and kids all around us shriek and laugh! In the pages of the book we see that there are many like the man, however; this story is mostly his story, and it has not been made too overwhelming by frequently and needlessly reminding us that there are countless others in his plight, focusing instead on just a few migrant stories to represent millions. The most engaging of these, a great and terrible battle in which many lives are lost during a series of lifts and spins and balances, and a near tragedy, depicted by a woman moving over and under a continuously moving ladder to retrieve a precious book, perhaps her only possession. These are highly physical sequences, the company of actors having settled with each other and with the demands of the show over a very short rehearsal time, however; during the extended season, once they’ve really settled, you’ll see an even tighter, more precise and even more closely connected ensemble, comprising Giema Contini, Nerida Matthaei, Leah Shelton, Michael Tuahine, Charles Ball, Danielle Jackson, Kristian Santic, Caroline Dunphy, and Tama Jarman & Shadon Meredith from Red Leap Theatre.

 

 

We appreciate more and more the work of these performers, largely disguised during the journey in their on-stage-stagehand roles, manipulating the invading dragon tail dementors in the sky, and moving city walls, and later, pulling up cloth from below the apron of the stage to create a field of flowers, the perfect realisation of Tan’s original illustration. A devised imagined language also makes perfect sense, supported by comedic gestures and facial expressions, often bringing light to this dark story. There’s a very funny snozzcumber moment, when a refreshing, revolting tasting fluid is sourced from some weird vegetable at the market. A more frightening BFG/Holocaust/The Mission moment comes with the sudden, violent extraction of tiny people by enormous shadowy figures looking suspiciously like Ghostbusters (the original Ghostbusters, kids, the best).

 

It’s gorgeous to see and hear this society brought to life by accomplished performers, making this production a theatre makers’ masterclass: for physical theatre / devising / directing addicts/aficionados we see in The Arrival a stunning example of contemporary theatre, and specifically, Visual Theatre and Physical Theatre using the essential elements/ingredients of composition, including all of The Viewpoints. For example, and this is especially for my year 9 & 10 drama kids, who are used to me telling them to go see whatever it is I’ve just seen, a beautifully constructed sequence of everyday activities exploring gesture, tempo, repetition and duration, as well as a choreographed dream-turned-nightmare, and a unique game in which lawn bowls meets bottle-flipping, to the great delight of everyone-who-is-not-a-teacher-with-playground-duty-experience.

 

 

With the arrival of another Spring, comes the arrival of the man’s family, and again this moment is miniaturised, the fingers doing the initial walking, building our anticipation before, finally, a running, leaping, embracing reunion, made even more moving this way, setting up the final lasting image of the family standing together again. 

 

The Arrival comes to us with its universal story, its beautiful, powerful, theatrically conceptualised and constructed images, and Red Leap’s signature aesthetic. It’s unparalleled at this year’s Out of the Box Festival, superbly realised, designed and directed, imbued with so much meaning and emotion, and waiting for your take on it. This is the intelligent, aesthetically and emotionally inspiring theatre that kids (and adults) never forget. Take the whole family and talk about it, and about what it means to each of you, and what – if anything – you might do about the feelings that come up for you. It’s not a call to action exactly, but a gentle nudge, a reminder to love and be loved, and to be kind to those near you – family, friends, strangers – because at the core of The Arrival is the struggle to survive and stay connected, and that’s everyone’s story.

 

Red Leap Theatre – The Arrival TRAILER from Red Leap Theatre on Vimeo.

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.

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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

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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.

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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?

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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!