Good clean fun [by Guest Reviewer Dionne Christian]
One of the great joys of being a parent is taking your children to kids’ theatre and watching the expressions of joy, delight, awe and sheer amazement on their faces as they experience the magic of a live show.
Because they’re kids, they don’t know “the rules” about sitting still and keeping quiet so they’re likely to yell advice to the characters – and even tell them off if they feel they need it – sing along and dance with wild enthusiasm. They’ll comment, frequently loudly, on things they recognise and shout about what they think is going to happen.
As a parent, you can tell them to “shush” and get all anxious or you can embrace your inner child and go along for the ride. After all, who doesn’t want to have a break from being a grown up? (And if they want to sit quietly and soak it all up, that’s fine too. I have one child whom I have to wrestle to keep from running on stage and joining in and another who sits back, relaxes and then expounds on it all later).
In Auckland, we’re fortunate to have two professional companies (Tim Bray Productions and Phineas Phrog) who, each school holiday, stage lively and entertaining productions with the young ‘uns in mind. In addition, The Edge, through its TimeOut Theatre programmes, cooks up delightfully different productions to entertain kids and holiday-weary caregivers.
Tim Bray Productions started in 1991 and should be loudly applauded for longevity alone. There’s a strong and often local literary bent to the company’s very fine shows, probably because Bray’s sister, Rosemary Tisdall, is a children’s literature specialist who suggests children’s stories which could be adapted for the stage. Margaret Mahy, Lynley Dodd, Ronda Armitage, Joy Watson and Joy Cowley are among the NZ authors who have seen their stories turned into a Tim Bray production.
Joy Cowley’s Mrs Wishy-Washy is the latest collection of her stories to be adapted by Bray. The original stories are straight-forward and designed for early readers; Bray acknowledges he wondered how he could possibly put on an hour-long show based on the books. He’s more than achieved it.
Mrs Wishy-Washy brings together 16 of the stories to tell a lively and surprisingly seamless story with a strong narrative arc of what happens when the titular character, played by Hamish McGregor, and her devoted husband Mr Wishy-Washy (Luke Wilson) decide to ready their cow (Italia Hunt), pig (Eli Matthewson) and duck (Katie Burson) for The Big Farm Fair.
Let’s just hint that the animals’ mantra is “oh, lovely mud” and they rap, croon and disco their way through a series of odes to mud. A disco ball drops from the ceiling as the 1976 Rose Royce disco classic Car Wash plays; Miss Four is instantly on her feet and dancing along the front row. Music plays a big part in all the Tim Bray shows, the result of a long-running and successful partnership with songwriter Christine White who writes original songs to complement the stories. Bray seems to know instinctively just when a young audience are going to start to fidget and pops in a song or dance number to keep them engaged and move the story along.
The disco sequence is one of a number of surprises, aided and abetted by Jessika Verryt’s bright and breezy set, as well as the enchanting addition of Pippiajna Tui Jane who rises to the challenging task of portraying, with pleasing humour, a puddle of mud, bubbles, water, a car wash, the Big Farm Fair announcer and a TV journalist.
It is Hamish McGregor’s professional stage debut – Miss Four soon forgets “he’s a boy!” – and he more than holds his own as part of a multi-talented cast who appear to be having as much fun as the audience. The Big Farm Fair competition scene, complete with music, muscles and dancing is a highlight as is Pig’s rap set to Eminem’s Lose Yourself.
Twenty-two years in the business has given Tim Bray Productions the opportunity to hone its skills and to do know full well what works and what doesn’t. The simple but often beautiful and clever special effects the company employs are astonishing; its performers commit fully to their respective roles and never patronise their young audiences; there’s humour pitched at kids and adults – and it seldom sinks to the level of cheap gags or bawdy double entendre; the shows are always just the right length.
Mrs Wishy-Washy is no exception. Entertain yourself and the kids these holidays by going along – and if you’re worried it might be too young for older children, my Miss Eight (soon to turn nine) declared it was one of the best Tim Bray shows she’s seen – and trust me, she’s seen a fair few. It will be a very sad day when she finally announces she’s too old.
Mrs Wishy-Washy is presented by Tim Bray Productions and plays at The Pumphouse until 12 October. Details see Tim Bray Productions.
NOTE: Tim Bray Productions has launched its first PledgeMe campaign to raise $3000 to create a new user-friendly and more interactive website. To find out more or support Going Live, go to www.pledgeme.co.nz