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Print Version

By Margaret Mahy,
Adapted by Carl Nixon
Directed by Lucy Edwards
presented by KidzStuff Theatre for Children Inc

at 4 Moncrieff St., Mt. Victoria, Wellington
From 20 Apr 2013 to 4 May 2013
[1 hr]

Reviewed by John Smythe, 22 Apr 2013

The romanticising of pirates is the mark of a bygone age of ‘innocence' (born of ignorance) where tall tales from exotic climes were not hampered by on-the-spot Tweets, Instagram snaps and YouTube clips of the true traumas of such horrors.

Margaret Mahy's The Great Piratical Rumbustification was first published as a picture book in either 1969 (according to Playmarket) or 1978 (Wikipedia) and playwright Carl Nixon adapted it in 2002. It's been seven years since KidzStuff Theatre produced his adaptation of Mahy's The Dragon of an Ordinary Family and this return to a popular New Zealand writer's work (as opposed to mini-pantos based on ancient European folk tales) is very welcome indeed.   

The central premise is that young Oliver Terrapin is starved of adventure. Even though his family has moved to a bigger house where his benignly tolerant mother has promised he can “expand”, nothing exciting has happened for three weeks. This night, however, his parents are off to a dinner party, they need a baby sitter and the Mother Goose Babysitting Agency's computer discovers the best match is a retired pirate called Orpheus Clinker.

Clinker, as it happens, is also in search of excitement and is trying to round up his old colleagues Roving Tom and Terrible Crabmeat among others – i.e. the audience – to create one of their Great Piratical Rumbustifications. And so it all comes together and about …

A fascinating detail is that the rich businessman, Sir John, whom Mr Terrapin so admires – and hopes to get tips from at the dinner party, about how to find the money he now needs to pay off the big house – is actually 105 year-old Terrible Crabmeat, which raises questions (for the adults) as to how he came to amass his formidable fortune. Is there hidden social commentary in that thar treasure chest?

As for the moral embedded in the pay-off, whereby Mr T is given the treasure chest in exchange for hosting the Rumbustification in his home until dawn … It's possibly worthy of a thesis, to determine whether Margaret Mahy's early children's stories contain socio-political commentary or are simply the product of a wonderfully fertile imagination which may verge on the amoral.

Director Lucy Edwards keeps the story ticking over and ensures her cast connect well with their audience – thanks to the unforced and naturally evolving involvement the script engenders from the moment Clinker and Tom each ask the children if they have seen the other.

While the script is written for 2 males and 2 females, this cast has 3 men covering 5 male and 2 female characters while the one actress plays a boy.

Sandi Malesic holds the centre well as Oliver and Paul ‘Rocky' Fidow strikes an ideal tough-yet-gentle balance as the hook-handed Orpheus Clinker, with more of an Irish brogue that your standard West Country / South West England accent (Long John Silver, who set the standard for speaking like a pirate, came from Bristol).

Delightfully delineating his three roles, Robert Hickey shows innate good timing as Mr Terrapin, Roving Tom and Jigglesworth (Sir John/Crabmeat's long-suffering butler). And Michael Fowler completes the cast as Millicent Terrapin, Mother Goose and Terrible Crabmeat (aka Sir John).

Given I usually go to the opening shows on the first Saturday, I have often wondered whether they draw especially good audiences but this 11am Monday show is just as packed with alert children who are ahead of the game more than once – putting the cast on their mettle. They do a good job of acknowledging the excited offers from the floor while ensuring the script does not become derailed.

On the way home I hear more than one child singing the ‘Yo Ho Ho' song in the street (music: Rob Ormsby). And as with all KidzStuff shows, there is little doubt this play will inspire much play at home (as the weather draws in) – not to mention the purchase of this and other Margaret Mahy books. Kia ora to that! 
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