BRAY’S BEST EFFORT YET – ARRRRGH!!!
THE GREAT PIRATICAL RUMBUSTIFICATION
by Margaret Mahy
adapted and directed by Tim Bray
original songs by Christine White
Tim Bray Productions
at The Pumphouse, Takapuna, Auckland
From 30 Jun 2012 to 14 Jul 2012
Reviewed by Lexie Matheson, 2 Jul 2012
Margaret Mahy's love affair with pirates began with The Great Piratical Rumbustification in 1978. She followed it up in 1983 with The Pirates' Mixed-Up Voyage and again in 1987 with The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate.
It's not fair to suggest that Mahy invented pirates, however, as the world has always taken delight in tales of buried treasure, eye patches, desert islands and the Jolly Roger. Mahy, however, pre-empted the modern obsession with all things that go “arrrrgh” by some 30 years – and it's no surprise as the stream of gold in “them there tales” runs mighty deep.
Tim Bray Productions has an ongoing and significant relationship with Mahy's delightful, award winning children's stories having adapted The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate for the stage in 2010 and Mahy's first published children's book The Lion in the Meadow (1969) in 2011. The synergy in the partnership has always been evident.
Perhaps Bray's most noteworthy quality as an adapter/director of children's stories is his uncanny ability to find the essence of the works he adapts and to find ways to translate this to the stage. His work with Mahy's quirky creations is no exception. It's been my pleasure to see many of Bray's children's theatre works but I have to say The Great Piratical Rumbustification is quite simply his best effort yet and it's all down to harmony.
Casting a play is both the most difficult task and the most critical one. Cast the right actor and much of the work is done. In casting The Great Piratical Rumbustification Bray has found just the right balance of quirkiness, talent and idiosyncrasy to ensure that Mahy's story bursts into life with all the spirit of the original.
The story itself is simple.
The Terrapin family home is incredibly small so they move to a larger one to enable son Oliver to have more room for his imaginative adventures and this stretches the family finances to breaking point. Oliver likes the idea of playing pirates and his desire to explore the genre seems to magically conjure up just the right bunch of magical misfits, oddballs and eccentrics all of whom are looking for somewhere to party.
By way of the Mother Goose Babysitting Agency – and with Oliver's tacit approval – the pirates take over the Terrapin house and mount their rumbustification. Mr and Mrs Terrapin return home from dining out only to find their house full of partying pirates and all's well that ends with treasure and soup!
The Terrapin family are perfect.
Oliver (Toby Goode), a likeable, over-sized school boy, is charming and mildly eccentric. Goode is highly skilled and amiable and enriches the somewhat thin plot with an easy physicality at every available opportunity.
Mr Terrapin (Paul Harrop) knows all too well that he has over-stretched himself in purchasing the bigger house and quite simply goes green every time money is mentioned. Harrop's Mr Terrapin is not your average Dad despite his deceptively conservative appearance. His intelligent choices and immaculate physical control connect this somewhat peculiar family in their world of relative normalcy with the nutty fantasy of the pirate world. It's almost as though he has some small amount of pirate in his genes.
Mrs Terrapin (Julie Collis) is lovely. Everything about her is lovely. She is a super-caring mum and a loving, thoughtful wife but nothing, absolutely nothing, gets by her. Collis plays Mrs Terrapin straight down the middle – a veritable Everymum – but cleverly chooses her moments of eccentricity to serve Mahy's story. The restaurant scene, as the Terrapin parents await the arrival of the mega-rich Sir John (Alasdair Laws) is a case in point.
Likewise the pirates are simply fabulous.
Roving Tomasina (Brenda Kendell) is the Granny every child would wish to have. Her buxom energy and wicked ways endear her to us from the outset. She's piratical but not in the least frightening and hers is a subtly nuanced performance. In short, she's a Mahy pirate to a T! Kendall doubles delightfully as the hearing-impaired Mother Goose whose job it is to turn the plot on its ear by sending Orpheus Clinker to the Terrapins' as Oliver's unlikely babysitter, an act on which the rest of the intrigue hinges.
Orpheus Clinker (Paul Norell) is the pirate children dream of. He's a ten foot tall, lovable ratbag in massive sea boots and cocked hat and he dwarfs everything around him. Blessed with a great voice, Norell booms his good-humoured way through the play and even shows a fine pair of heels in Linda McFetridge's closing song and dance sequence.
This central piratical troupe is completed with the addition of Terrible Crabmeat (Alasdair Laws). Crabmeat is a slender, stooped, red-bearded fellow, a lovable rogue who would not seem out of place alongside Captain Jack Sparrow on the Black Pearl.
Pirate numbers are increased when the rumbustifcation requires through the inclusion of Rumbling Dick Rover (Tom Wardle), Wild Jack Clegg (Laura Brinkman) and the resident musical wunderkind Kristie Addison. They sing, dance, rumbusitify and solve Mr Terrapin's financial problems all in under an hour and with an extraordinary joie de vivre.
Tim Bray's direction is crisp and precise and he has worked closely with his actors to produce a highly polished composition, an excellent use of the available space and a first-rate physicality.
It wouldn't be a Tim Bray show for kids without songs and the inimitable Christine White has worked her usual magic with these. They are woven seamlessly into the book and enhance the delicious aural texture inherent in Mahy's work and Bray's adaptation of it. Additional songs from the sea shanty catalogue are added (‘Blow the Man Down', ‘When I Was One' and ‘Fire Down Below') and these add a strange authenticity to the whole. In the hands of the highly accomplished Kristie Addison, the performance quality of the music was always assured.
A special feature of selected shows for this season of The Great Piratical Rumbustification is the use of New Zealand sign language interpreters and these young women provided a heart-warming bonus to the Gala Night performance.
Set design, props and scenic artistry were in the hands of the wonderful and talented Rachael Walker. Long a favourite designer of mine, Walker has, as always, come up with a visually captivating and sublimely workable set that is full of delicious surprises. Lighting design (Michael Craven), costume design (Chantelle Gerrard) and stage management (Elaine Walsh), all contributed marvellously to the overall harmonious efficiency of this wonderful show.
As always the warmth of the Pumphouse staff and the beauty of the environment contributed to a thoroughly delightful experience. There is plenty for everyone in this production and adults will be as satisfied as the children by this excellent experience.
My nine year old guest – a hardened theatre attendee with five Shakespeare's under his belt – informed me, as he climbed over me to get back to his seat after dancing in the aisle, that the show was “great, loud, colourful and full of surprises.” I couldn't help but agree.
So grab your kids, dress up as your favourite pirate and rock on over to the Pumphouse. You'll be real glad you did, me hearties, real glad indeed. Arrrrgh!!!
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