Possum Magic

Possum Magic
Based on the book by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas, adapted by Eva Di Cesare and Sandra Eldridge. monkey baa theatre company. Touring nationally – link for dates at end of review.

Monkey Baa has a dedicated commitment to introducing kids to good theatre by bringing the Australian books they love authentically to stage. It continues that commitment with this delightful interpretation of Mem Fox and Julie Vivas’ treasured story about faith and identity.

The gentleness of Grandma Poss and her journey around Australia with her invisible grandchild, Hush, is ‘magically’ recreated in this imaginative adaptation. Mixing movement, mime puppetry, humour and, of course, magic, director Sandra Eldridge brings together a cast of creative theatre makers to breathe life into the characters, and the illusion that weaves through the story.

Magician/illusion designer Adam Mada joins with magician Bruce Glen to make Grandma Poss’s tricks possible. Her book of magic, for example, opens miraculously. Its pages turn as if blown by a breeze. Hush’s little dictionary lights up as it opens and Grandma Poss ‘magics’ a light from it, throwing it towards an invisible Hush, where it, too, becomes invisible. Thus the ‘written magic’ is confirmed and childish belief in it endorsed!

Using a faithful recreation of Vivas’ pastel-tinted illustrations, production designer Emma Vini stretches her set to use as much of the stage as possible. The trees reach high, their branches framing the full moon, their trunks providing hiding places for the possums … and the magic. The moon shines its silver light as a backdrop for the action; and provides a screen for Alice Osborne’s shadow puppets and vision animator David Bergman’s projections – night-time clouds, a quirky map of Australia and cartoons depicting the ‘icons’ of the capital cities that Grandma Poss and Hush visit in their quest.

Backed by the creative sounds of composer Nate Edmondson, theatre and dance maker Sam Chester uses a combination of mime and expressive movement to bring the possums and their bush friends to life, while still perpetuating the storybook imagery of Vivas’ illustrations. The action she has choreographed is idiosyncratic. Based on how possums go about heir business, she has devised action that make the characters believably lovable interpretations of the original drawings.

And what about the performers? Claudette Clarke (Grandma Poss) and Sarah Greenwood (Hush) personalise the characters with shiny, wide-eyed wonder and awe, re-telling Fox’s story in a way with which children can identify. Clarke gives Grandma Poss gentle wisdom, trust, understanding and patience – a quality she instils into her energetic, spirited grandchild as they travel the continent. She is every-grandparent – and kids will love her.

Greenwood gives Hush the enthusiasm and impatience of the very young. She questions, head on side, hops about impulsively, reacts excitedly, blinks disbelievingly, trusts in Grandma Poss implicitly. She is every-child searching to find its own voice – and kids will love her too.

They are very ably supported by Alex Packard and Michael Yore who, as well as assisting with the magic and operating shadow puppets and large stick puppets (eg a huge vegemite sandwich and a cloudy, cotton pavlova), play a wombat, a snake, two very funny supermarket employees and purveyors of the different Australian ‘people food’ Hush needs to eat to become visible. Skilfully, they move from role to role, supporting the action and adding snippets of humour.

It may sound trite to say “Monkey Baa has done it again”, but it’s true. With their productions like Pete the Sheep, The Bugalugs Bumthief and Diary of a Wombat – and  now Possum Magic – they have taken characters from the page and made them live graphically for young audiences in eclectically theatrical productions that are creative and carefully polished.

Carol Wimmer

Tour details

https://www.monkeybaa.com.au/shows/possum-magic-tour-2019/#tour-dates

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