A THRILLING RIDE THROUGH HISTORY TO PREHISTORY AND BACK
IVY – SAVIOUR OF THE DINOSAUR!
By Jennifer Martin
Capital E National Theatre for Children
at CAPITAL E, McKenzie Theatre, Wellington
From 30 Jun 2012 to 14 Jul 2012
Reviewed by John Smythe, 1 Jul 2012
What a joy to see a brand new play for children that does not simply recycle some age-old folk tale. Ivy, of Ivy – Saviour of the Dinosaur, recycles history, paleontological history no less, with a quick whip through other historical milestones en route.
Jennifer Martin's Ivy, a cleaner at the museum, was born in 2010, to deliver her Toi Whakaari 20 minute Go Solo piece, Ivylution. Now the show itself has evolved into a 45 minute play with a second actor and some superb design elements, all dynamically co-ordinated by director Kerryn Palmer.
Designer Alice Hill has created a very authentic looking basement with shelves of cleaning products and idiosyncratic artefacts which – like the cleaner's trolley and costume – opens up to reveal hidden elements that reveal Ivy's unbridled imagination.
Gareth Farr's music and sound compositions and Marcus McShane's lighting design also enrich our shared experience of Ivy's fantastical quest down through the ages to the cretaceous period and back again, to save the dinosaur from extinction by somehow intercepting the meteorite on target to hit planet Earth around 65.5 million years ago.
Writer/performer Jennifer Martin has a ball with Ivy, in no way playing down to her young audience. People of all ages will tune in at whatever level suits them – my four-and-a-half year-old great nephew was as riveted as I was, and for different reasons – making this an ideal family show.
We soon discover we, in the darkened auditorium, are the lost tour group a security guard (Nick Dunbar) mentions on the intercom but we are not asked to participate in any way to help Ivy's cause (nor in the belief that youngsters need to get up and move every now and then, in order to avoid restlessness).
If course it turns out that most of what we witness is happening in Ivy's fertile imagination, with Dunbar's security guard – who write's Ivy off as a past her use-by date liability – adopting a range of historical roles abetted by the ‘found objects' which are ingeniously utilised as costume and prop elements. Thus a domed plastic rubbish bin lid becomes Neil Armstrong's moon-walk helmet, a floor-polishing mop denotes the wings of Richard Pearse's plane, a vacuum cleaner hose becomes the asp that curtailed Cleopatra's life, a ‘Caution, slippery when wet' sign serves as a pointy hat for Guy Fawkes …
Dunbar also makes superbly-pitched cameo appearances as Galileo, William Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, King Harold and Adolf Hitler – all aided by clever design elements that cartoonishly capture the essence of character.
But the driving force is Ivy and Martin's transformation from eccentric “cleaner by day” to gung-ho “palaeontologist by night” – she could be a close cousin of Indiana Jones – and the ride she takes us on is as thrilling as it is educational. It is a brilliant introduction to the concepts of history and prehistory for the young and an entertaining refresher for us oldies.
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I do have questions and quibbles concerning the historical and cultural elements, however. For some reason Ivy has a strong Yorkshire accent (so strong I thought her recurring line “An' we're 'ere” was “I'm Maria”). This doubtless had value in displaying her skills as a drama school graduand but in this context it becomes yet another lost opportunity to convince our kids that Kiwis too can be interesting, eccentric, imaginative, creative and heroic.
Ivy does re-enact Hilary's conquest of Everest, up the shelving with his very ice pick; Richard Pearce does get a brief mention, and I assume the creature that hatches from an egg at the end is a moa (not made explicit, I don't know why). Otherwise all the historical milestones are from the northern hemisphere, betraying the limitations of mid-20th century education and the encyclopaedic record. Yes of course all that is part of our heritage too – on the evolutionary and scientific, if not on everyone's cultural continuum – but our part of the world has existed too from prehistoric times and here was an opportunity to play with that too.
Was any thought given, I wonder, to relating Ivy in some way to Hawke's Bay's own famous fossicker for fossils, Joan Wiffen (see Valley of the Dragons: the story of New Zealand's dinosaur woman, Auckland: Random Century, 1991). The security guard is a very Kiwi boke and the museum is presumably in New Zealand museum, so why not include an historical landmark from pre-colonised Aotearoa, and/or Captain Cook observing the Transit of Venus, and/or Hongi Hika's trip to England to see King George IV, for example (in place of Cleopatra, King Harold and Adolf Hitler, perhaps)?
I am not suggesting no reference at all to the wider world. And I know we mark the legacy of Guy Fawkes every 5th November and he is crucial to Ivy's plan to blow up the meteorite before it strikes Earth and obliterates the dinosaur. But if Capital E National Theatre for Children doesn't make the effort to stake our claims in global history and prehistory, who else in the world will?
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|Aaron Alexander||posted 2 Jul 2012, 10:47 AM|
Just want to say that my son Zach and I loved it.
One the best shows for kids we've seen. I loved the respect shown for the intelligence of the kids, and the way in which the show started gently and was brave enough to withhold the ‘magic trick' of the trolley time-machine for quite a while. This meant the payoff was all the greater, as kids (my son, at least) had by that point thought they'd got the measure of the world of the show, and then a whole new dimension opens up, much to their delight. And the end was gentle, and poignant, and beautifully pitched. So many shows for kids end on a high-energy ‘number', and that's often appropriate, but it was such a refreshing change to end in a quiet, thoughtful way.
Epic cinematic score from Mr. Farr (loved the moon landing theme in particular), transformational magic from Mr. McShane, lovely playful creativity from Ms. Hill and of course Mr. Dunbar gnawing on the scenery in the very best way. Congratulations to Ms. Palmer for engendering an environment that was clearly creative and heaps of fun!
Beautiful job all and special congratulations to Jennifer for a memorable creation.
Zachary sends his love.
|sarah daniels||posted 2 Jul 2012, 09:22 PM|
I saw this show today with my son and was absolutely blown away, this is not just any kids show - It was truly moving! The first half of this review is right on the mark but reading the second half, I felt obliged to post a comment; I am dumbfounded by the reviewers apparent need for it to have such an immensely heavy New Zealand context and feel that his personal 'questions and quibbles' should not be included in the review, it seems a tad unprofessional and dampens what should be nothing but a rave review! Firstly Ivy would not be Ivy if she weren't from yorkshire; she is a detailed, well formed, beautiful character. (Also NZ is a British colony with a huge number of English immigrants) Secondly the piece does include a lot of New Zealand's history but doesn't limit itself to that and by covering the world's history it makes the piece universal (giving it the ability to perform anywhere - smart move by Capital E!) Hats off to everyone involved in Ivy - Saviour of the Dinosaur for an extraordinary piece of work - the family is eagerly anticipating a sequel!
|John Smythe||posted 2 Jul 2012, 10:27 PM|
I welcome your response, Sarah, but have to point out it is well within the realm of professional arts criticism to raise such questions and generate discourse. Yes of course all the choices made in IVY can be rationalised – and of course the world history context is essential. I am absolutely not suggesting otherwise.
But your implication that increasing the Kiwi dimension (to counterbalance the over-representation of the ‘old world' in the historical record) would reduce its universality is a worry. Our part of the world is just as old and if we don't explore that, who else will?
If Capital E were to take this show offshore there would be every expectation it would be bringing the gift of a Kiwi perspective on world history and prehistory. If you saw such a show from Australia, for example, would you not find it strange if the leading character was from Yorkshire, and would their being Australian make it any less universal?
My purpose in raising these questions ‘below the line', as a postscript, was to separate that discussion from my review of the show as is. Take it or leave it.
|sarah daniels||posted 3 Jul 2012, 03:12 PM|
I am not suggesting that increasing the kiwi dimension would limit its universality, I am simply saying that in my opinion there is enough of NZ history covered and it shouldn't have to balance out. The events you suggested could not be done justice in such short snippets like cleopatra, hitler and king harold could.
|John Smythe||posted 3 Jul 2012, 04:09 PM / edited 4 Jul 2012, 09:46 AM|
That's interesting, Sarah: you tell me I have no business questioning certain elements of this production yet you take the liberty of telling me what I may or may not do on a website I created for the very purpose of generating such discourse.
As for this part of the world having no prehistory, the moa was a relic, the tuatara remains one and Joan Wiffen's research reveals the presence of dinosaurs in what we now call the Hawkes Bay region – as Rebecca Priestly reveals on the National Library of New Zealand website: “She first found marine fossils and then, in the late 1970s, came across a dinosaur vertebra in a boulder about 65 million years old. Identification of this first find, the tail vertebra of a theropod dinosaur, was confirmed in 1980 by Australian vertebrate palaeontologist Ralph Molnar.
“Wiffen continued to explore the Mangahouanga site, finding other bones from both carnivore and herbivore dinosaurs, including theropods, a sauropod, a small hypsilophodont, an armoured ankylosaur and a flying reptile – the pterosaur.”
As long as New Zealand children – in fact all of us – are offered more stories, characters and cultural images (via film, television, books, plays and the internet) from other parts of the world than our own, every day of our lives, I will continue to say our creative practitioners have a primary responsibility to make our presence known and felt, both at home and elsewhere. And the better our creative artists are at their craft, the more I will wish their skills are thus used. This is my opinion and this is exactly the right place to express it.
|Dianne Brunton||posted 4 Jul 2012, 12:14 PM / edited 4 Jul 2012, 01:09 PM|
Gosh, for someone who uses words to critique the creativity of others I was surprised to see so many typos and errors sprinkled throughout John Smyth's review. John got it right in the first half but
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I do have questions and quibbles concerning the second part, I found the review pretty unimaginative towards the end. I suppose critiques have to find something to complain about but I absolutely disagree that the play didn't have enough reference to New Zealand (actually I am not sure why this is really relevant). Jennifer Martin manages to weave a wonderful blend of New Zealand iconic figures Sheppard, Pearce, and Hilary with other people that have shaped (western) human history. Ivy is a wonderful character, the accent adds depth, charm and contrast to her character – it's imaginative. With Ivy we cross time and space, I agree with the reviewer that this play has something for everyone, action, interaction and clever effects for children, with the bonus of fast, witty dialogue for the more mature members of the audience. I didn't assume The Basement was in a New Zealand Musuem or that the bird at the end was a moa, these aspects of the story were for me universals. Jennifer Martin as the writer clearly has the ability to see the world as children see it – all children love adventure and dinosaurs.
Now think about what the world was like in the age of the dinosaurs; prior to 65 million years ago – New Zealand did not exist as it is now, for most of the dinosaur age we were part of Gowandana, a massive supercontinent, when dinosaurs disappeared our geological foundations were barely above the sea, we were part of the large flat and sinking continent of Zealandia. Yes, we have some dinosaur fossils, and yes Joan Wiffen through shear determination found them, but the majority are marine based – Zealandia was basically submerged. So the dinosaur age is a world very connected and in my opinion Ivy hits its mark by adopting the same approach.
Along with my family, I went to the opening- it was simply astounding, everyone there loved it, children were enthralled and entertained, what more could you ask of a performance? Congratulations to Captila E for supporting this talented team.
PS. The evolution of birds from dinosuars portrayed at the end of the play was clearly NOT a moa – moas are a group of flightless bird species that have no wing bones – the world's first birds evolved from a small velociraptor type dinosaur WITH wings - Ivy's bird, it surprised and delighted the audience at the very end.
|John Smythe||posted 4 Jul 2012, 02:53 PM / edited 4 Jul 2012, 12:00 AM|
Thank you Dianne - I hope I have cleaned up the typos now. Speaking of which, where you mention “Gowandana”, I assume you mean Gondwana (a.k.a. Gondwanaland) which began to rearrange itself in the early cretaceous period. The micro continent Zealandia probably began to separate from Antarctica between 130 and 85 million years ago, then from Australia about 60-85 million years ago. (Wiffen found a dinosaur vertebra in a boulder dated at about 65 million years old.)
But my point is that the southern hemisphere has always been part of planet Earth, the form our region takes at present, above and below the seas, has evolved from something else that was here, and all that is relevant to the notion of ‘prehistory'. Our history also remains a relative mystery both to us and the rest of the world, compared with the what's been around since myth-making and story-telling were invented, which offers our creative artists exciting opportunities.
Do I need to add, yet again, that this discussion sits to the side of my clearly stated admiration for Ivy – Saviour of the Dinosaur and Jennifer Martin's splendid performance?
|Dianne Brunton||posted 4 Jul 2012, 09:37 PM|
Touché re spelling; all too easy to slip up. Just a final word to say I admire your passion for New Zealand culture and your appreciation of our young creative artists. My heckles were raised because the approach you advocate would make this a different show with a different purpose; I came across adversarial only because I thought the show as it stands is complete.
|John Smythe||posted 4 Jul 2012, 09:59 PM|
Thanks again Dianne. I am not arguing for this show to change so much as taking the opportunity to ask creators to have a good think - at the times of conception or recreating – about the questions I've raised above. People from the ‘old world' regard us as very fortunate to be able to bring a fresh voice and perspective to universal themes. Cue: ‘We don't know how lucky we are …'