REVIEW: Dexter’s Amazing African Adventure (TAPAC and Blue Baths):

Review by Matt Baker

Amanda Tito as Dexter

[Glued to the Stage]

Written by Jess Sayer, one of New Zealand’s grittiest adult playwrights, and Darlene Mohekey, the creative and musical genius The Blue Baths, Dexter’s Amazing African Adventure follows Dexter’s journey (a year after his deep sea discovery) to save the last African Black Horn Rhinoceros. It’s a simple premise with little conflict, but Sayer and Mohekey extrapolate on it to provide a thoroughly entertaining show with genuine heart these school holidays.

From Lady Gaga and The Backstreet Boys to The Clash and John Lennon, the show is full of musical numbers with adapted lyrics, an extension of the pun-laden script, providing comedic value for both children and adults. Dan Williams’ set is simple, yet effective, and as director Sayer uses the space, both onstage and off, to create the necessary sense of chaos in the cartoonesque moments of the show.

Costumes by Sarah Burren and make up by the cast themselves create a seemingly endless supply of animal characters, making it easy to forget the cast is only six strong. Amanda Tito is an endearing Dexter, while Darlene Mohekey and Jason Chasland counterbalance the passivity of the protagonist with wildly impressive vocal and dance talent. Bryony Skillington, Hadley Taylor, and Estevez Gillespie each provide their own unique “voice(s)” to the show with a variety of characters, from the plot-driving to the scene-stealing.

After some prompting from the older members of the audience, the children for whom this show is aimed are happy to engage in verbal sparring with the actors. It’s a fundamental component of children’s theatre, and while a difficult line to toe (give them too little and they won’t feel it’s necessary, give them too much and they won’t stop talking), the political undertones to the show are an apt way of teaching them how to speak up for what they believe in when given the opportunity to do so, though there is certainly room for more.

The most vital component of any theatre, however, is its ability to entertain its audience. Whether it’s frivolous comedy or conservational commentary, engaging any audience can be an arduous task. Children have notoriously short attention spans, and even adults’ are not what they used to be. Dexter’s Amazing African Adventure, however, has every child glued to the stage for the 90 minutes (plus interval) and more than excited to spend time in the foyer post-show to meet their (and my) favourite characters.

Dexter’s Amazing African Adventure is presented by TAPAC and Blue Baths, and performs at TAPAC until July 22. For details see TAPAC.

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Nik Smythe

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