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Print Version

Written by Rachel Callinan
Directed by Murray Lynch
Based on an original idea from Stephen Blackburn
Composed by Thomas Press
Designed by Theo Wijnsma

at Hannah Playhouse (previously Downstage), Wellington
From 5 Jul 2014 to 19 Jul 2014
[55 mins]

Reviewed by John Smythe, 5 Jul 2014

Grandad's Lucky Storm is a very different sort of children's play involving a very different sort of grandparent: neither the wise old vegie-garden digging cocoa-sipping type nor the fantastically piratical Margaret Mahy type (who, I know, was a mother rather than a grandmother but you know what I mean) – although this Grandad does have a story to tell about being a pirate.

The necessarily small audience is ushered into Grandad's place: more of a shed than a living room, cluttered with motorbike parts, tool boxes and other paraphernalia. And an odd collection of chairs and sofas. Theo Wijnsma has created a splendidly intimate environment within the Hannah Playhouse* and Natasha James has lit it very realistically, with some hidden craft allowing for special effects (which I assume are implemented by Stage Manager Bridget Carpenter and/or Assistant Stage manager Antony Goodin).

From a child's perspective, we – collectively representing a grandchild – have been rather unceremoniously dumped, by a stressed-out mother with things to do elsewhere, on a gruff and rather awkward Grandad (Jason Whyte). And this is the first time Grandad has seen us since we were “about the size of a potato”. 

Having traded his TV in for the currently dismembered Harley, he's somewhat at a loss for how to entertain us. Turning the room into a tent by hauling patchwork sheets up and over us, then attaching them to the dangling light cord (don't try this at home, kids), is a start. It's like a larger version of what most kids do with their bed clothes. But now what?  

What he comes up with is a story about a pirate called Lucky with crew mates Telfast and Optrex (the medication packets are in evidence) and their constant battle to evade the Boys In Blueberry Gang. Their great fear is being captured and imprisoned on the Isle of Eden Mountain. Then there's Lucky's special relationship with a ‘Boatermechanic'-cum-panel beater called Hope, with whom he has a daughter, just before … the past catches up on him.  

It all takes place as an electrical storm rages outside, causing a job lot (I use that term advisedly) of torches to be brought into illuminating service. One hand-generated gadget, with a siren, seems to take on a life of its own, as do elements of shadow play …

For adults (of any age) and older children, what also unfolds is an equally compelling underlying reality: the story of a compulsive petty crim whose mate gets nabbed by ‘the boys in blue' only to return and set Grandad up for his own long stretch. Presumably Grandad has lost ‘Hope' along the way, his relationship with his now grown daughter is somewhat estranged and something (unspecified) has happened to make her dump us, the next generation, at his place for an hour or so (which, given the nature of theatre, feels like a good half day).

Jason Whyte and director Murray Lynch are very focused on making Grandad real, avoiding obvious manifestations of theatrical flair - both in the storytelling and shadow puppetry - so we are not spoon-fed with carefully modulated set-ups and payoffs. The feeling is he is not telling the story for us but is sorting it out for himself. This might have worried me if I had not seen small faces just as entranced as the older ones.

Recommended for age 5 and over, Grandad's Lucky Storm is a play with plenty in it for children, parents and grandparents – and those with little experience of parenting too. Entrancing and intriguing for the younger ones, who will intuitively recognise true experiences they rarely see replicated in theatre, it also leaves older observers with plenty to think about in terms of how a lot of lives are lived and where our humanity lies. Then there's that thing about how fiction can get us closer to the facts …

This production is highly recommended along with the urge to book early, given the limited audience size.
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*It strikes me that if an excuse was needed for allowing larger audiences in, Grandpa and Hope might have constructed a bit of a ‘grandstand' for them and their mates to watch a Rugby World Cup back in the day … 
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See also reviews by:
 Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] (The Dominion Post);