Friday, March 16, 2018

The Magic Pudding returns with its fun and frolicsome adventure fit for all from Victorian Opera

Brenton Spiteri, Nathan Lay, Douglas Kelly and Timothy Reynolds
Neither be alarmed nor feel left out if you haven’t heard of Norman Lindsay’s classic Australian children’s book published 100 years ago, The Magic Pudding: Being The Adventures of Bunyip Bluegum and his friends Bill Barnacle and Sam Sawnoff. Not everyone in our bush-loving land grew up with Lindsay’s enchanting sing-song verse. But, simply known as The Magic Pudding, maybe we all should.

Lindsay’s crackerjack ability to seduce his reader with an endearing bunch of personality-diverse critters in a tale outlining the tantalising and tricky track of appealing adventure, accompanied by intermittent adverse affairs on the way, of building friendships and extolling the gaiety of song, is as charmingly instructive for kids as it is for adults.

Now, with Victorian Opera’s 70-minute frolicsome and tightened re-creation, The Magic Pudding has a scrumptious new form to endear a new generation. With song and wit so aglow in Lindsay’s little book, it’s almost unimaginable to think it hadn’t been produced with music earlier. After its premiere season opening in 2013, it returns triumphantly, boldly opening the company’s 2018 season putting children firmly at the fore.

Jeremy Kleeman with Albert, The Magic Pudding
Composer Calvin Bowman’s tuneful and accessible, brisk and jolly score provides an invigorating and descriptive musical match for Anna Goldsworthy’s faithfully written adaptation that trims but preserves the integrity of Lindsay’s indelible text. Conductor Fabian Russell and his 11-member Victorian Opera Chamber Orchestra brought out the spark marvellously while director Cameron Menzies facilitated the storytelling with plain sailing vitality that ties the work’s four ‘slices’ into a totally captivating whole. Of course, without costume designer Chloe Greaves’s fabulously fabricated and outfitted fauna, her simple but effective set - comprising a painted bush backdrop with woody vertical and horizontal stage elements and a handful of roll-in props - as well as Peter Derby’s ravishing lighting, the theatrical experience would’ve felt lost.

Showing commitment to their cause, a cast of both current and former Victorian Opera Youth Artists sang and acted through the adventure, headed by a warm, robust and resonant Nathan Lay who brought to life the most distinguished koala this side of Toolaroo and one with clout, Bunyip Bluegum.

Jeremy Kleeman’s physical manifestations are as much a pleasure to watch as the gangly, basin-headed, chest-less and sour-faced pudding puppet he manipulates while strapped to his shoes, the voice, rum-rich and, quaintly, conversely chesty. His Albert the Pudding is hot property indeed, impish and hard not to sympathise with. “Cut-an'-come-again is his name”, his oft steak-and-kidney inners replenishing themselves as quickly as the they’re met with a fork.

Pudding owners, sailor Bill Barnacle and penguin Sam Sawnoff were an excellent comic duo in the hands of Timothy Reynolds and Brenton Spiteri, their cheesy grooves getting lots of laughs and their wavering fists getting a good workout protecting their pudding. Puddin’ Thieves Shakira Tsindos as Possum and Shakira Dugan as Wombat, were a perfect borderline bumbling pair in their conniving pursuits. Dugan’s additional neck-twitching Rooster and cackling pizzicato song, as brief as it was, won’t be easily forgotten.

Shakira Tsindos and Shakira Dugan
As the shimmying, gavel-wielding Judge, Carlos E. Bárcenas showed off a new comic side to go with the ever-striking large and lavish tenor he produces. Expressive baritone Stephen Marsh is one to watch for the future, making a fine pedigree of floppy eared canine, Benjimen Brandysnap, Douglas Kelly did a notably strong job as both Constable and Hedgehog and, mostly singing from atop, a feathered young Georgia Wilkinson narrated with light, starry-voiced care.

The incorporation of a youth and adult chorus is a particularly fine idea. While they do little more than occasionally parrot the text, they added so much to the slice of enjoyment with their clear sense of community and combined vocal unity. Clustered on each side of the stage, in flannel and checks, they often had the appearance of being part of the natural landscape. Only issue? With around 50 in number, they reduced the stage area considerably, leaving the main action in a mostly restricted centralised area.

The bulk of Victorian Opera supporters have to wait until July for the meatier fare when William Tell opens at the Palais Theatre. In the meantime, The Magic Pudding can leave a smile planted on your face before it travels to Wodonga and Bendigo. And if you haven't already, read Lindsay's book. Children get another slice of the season with an abridged version of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel in June.

The Magic Pudding 
Victorian Opera
Playhouse Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
Until 17th March

Production Photos: Charlie Kinross 

No comments:

Post a Comment