Bluey’s Big Play The Stage Show

Bluey’s Big Play The Stage Show
Presented by QPAC’s Out of the Box in association with BBC Studios, Andrew Kay and Windmill Theatre Co. Playhouse, Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), Brisbane. 22 December 2020 to 10 January 2021

Beth Keehn and young theatre fan Archie Humphries report on how family favourite, Bluey, translates from small screens to ‘real-life’ in a theatre world premiere.

Bluey, the award-winning children’s TV cartoon blue heeler, has just had her contract renewed for a third season of her No. 1 show, the most downloaded in the history of ABC’s iView. And now, the cast of canine characters have leapt from small screens to the stage in a world premiere of Bluey’s Big Play The Stage Show at QPAC’s Playhouse. Presented by QPAC’s Out of the Box in association with BBC Studios, Andrew Kay, and Windmill Theatre Co, Bluey is a cross-State production that was all set to premiere in May 2020, but had to contend with this year’s lockdown and border restrictions. At last, Bluey is here in Queensland, and it is great to see some of our top talents in children’s theatre in a cross-country collaboration.

The age range in my group of friends was between 11 and 60 years young, and we were all curious to see how the 2-D characters would be remodelled in 3-D for the ‘real-life’ space of the stage. Would there be large-scale character costumers? Projections? The opening scenes, with Ibis scratching around the stage and lorikeets soaring through the sky to a suburban street backdrop, firmly set the scene in Brisbane on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The stage set is joyfully and distinctively Brisbane – with pastel cartoon colours to match the TV series – boldly brought to life by Jonathon Oxlade, a multi-award-winning designer who studied illustration and sculpture at Queensland College of Art. My group was unanimously delighted to see the characters brought to life as large puppet characters created by Joe Blanck, with each of the four main characters operated by two puppeteers. In a canny move, instead of the usual back-stage black, the puppeteer performers wear pastel greens that blend into the suburban background.

The simple storyline by Bluey creator, writer and series director, Joe Brumm, has the feel of a contemporary fable – gently warning parents (or everyone, really) about prioritising play time and family time above overuse of modern technology – although the play’s ending is also a timely reminder of the good that technology can do to bring families together. There is a nice sub-theme about sibling relationships that will have parents of small children laughing knowingly, but that absolutely everyone with a brother or sister will relate to. My 11-year-old friend, Archie Humphries, said he thought it was great that elements from the TV show had been incorporated into the stage adaptation. This included much of the ‘Dad’ humour that is popular in the TV show, and was obviously enjoyed by all ages in the theatre audience. The older friends in our group noticed that, in contrast to other children’s theatre shows they’d been to, Bluey was well attended by fathers accompanying their kids – which was really lovely to see. So, the TV show might have had a visible impact on audience demographics. Fans of the animated TV series will be familiar with the quirky music by Brisbane-based composer Joff Bush, a graduate of the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. For some reason, I was expecting a song or two from Bluey and friends for their stage debut … maybe that is something the Heeler family will work on for the future?

Director Rosemary Myers (Artistic Director of South Australia’s Windmill Theatre Company) has pulled all the elements together to create a seamless, well-paced, fun family show. Puppetry Director Jacob Williams (co-artistic director of Lemony S Puppet Theatre in Melbourne) has done well to separate the stage into multiple sections with a trench for the puppeteers to work from for some scenes. The puppeteer performers are on a tight track having to work to pre-recorded voices that feature the stars of the TV show – they work incredibly hard and energetically to make the 3-D characters move in a smooth, animated way. Two puppeteers per character sometimes meant the stage was a little cluttered, and I wonder if some technology could solve this at some point? However, after many months of empty stages, it was wonderful to see a full cast complement.

Archie enthusiastically gave Bluey’s Big Play “4.5 stars out of 5”. He said: “The show was an all-rounder experience, with something for all age groups.” On the theatrical experience, Archie assured me that, “Bluey on stage compared well to the TV show. Kids seeing Bluey as their first theatre will be happily gobsmacked!” And, no spoilers, but – almost as a reminder of the delights of ‘low-fi’ game play – there is a gorgeous finale with an age-old luminous stage effect that had audience members of all ages elated.

Beth Keehn

Photographer: Darren Thomas

Subscribe to our E-Newsletter, buy our latest print edition or find a Performing Arts book at Book Nook.