Charlie, Estelle and the Poppazoid

Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, 31 Queens Garden, Dunedin

10/07/2018 - 12/07/2018

Production Details

Charlie sees the science and magic in everything. Estelle dreams of planets and stars and calculates the physics involved in her parkour challenges. Come into their world as they GO BEYOND their circumstances and an unlikely friendship emerges through invention, science, music and hip hop dance! Be wowed by Charlie’s own invention, the Poppazoid as it becomes a chemistry lab, a boom box, a food truck among many other things!

This performance is brought to you with the support of Creative New Zealand and the University of Otago Division of Humanities Performing Arts Fund. 

All tickets $5 Book through Toitu Otago Settlers Museum

Tuesday 10 July 2pm
Wednesday 11 July 11am and 2pm
Thursday 12 July 11am and 2pm

Set: Peter King
Choreography: Angelina Cockerill of Black and White Dance Studio
Starring: Orion Carey-Clark as Charlie and Lydia Bernard as Estelle

Theatre , Family , Children’s ,

1 hour

Captivating rapport

Review by Terry MacTavish 11th Jul 2018

“Let your dreams run free,” sing Charlie and Estelle, a comfortably orthodox message in children’s literature, but there is much more to this charming tale of two children and a machine. As part of the NZ International Science Festival, it will surely offer inventive experiments and encouragement to children to be curious, perhaps to free imaginations rather than more esoteric dreams.

We enter what is already a dreamlike, enchanted realm – strange spacey music and rainbow lights spinning over walls, ceiling and floor mats. My guest, Silvi, discovers she can catch the coloured spots of light on her programme: a cute poster of the play she has coloured in. We trap the prettiest colours in our fists and gift them to each other and to solemn four year old Angus, sitting cross-legged on my other side, until we notice there is an actor onstage, twirling idly from a swing suspended from a silver half-moon. She sings with wistful sweetness, “In my dreams I’m not alone, I’ve got friends.” 

Cue arrival of potential real friend, Charlie, energetically rapping and hip-hopping through the audience in striped pants and white coat. Silvi giggles happily and one young critic comments, “That was cool.” It takes a bit more to impress Estelle, but Charlie isn’t easily squashed. Perhaps his amazing Poppazoid will do the trick?

Estelle, as her name suggests, is a dreamer with her head in the stars, while down-to-earth inventor Charlie has come up with not a chocolate factory, but a travelling popcorn factory. What they have in common is loneliness. Estelle’s dad runs an isolated holiday camp at Waipouri, where Charlie has just arrived as things have not gone well for his parents in the big city. So they are refugees, really. Will Estelle be able to accept this intrusion into the dream-world she rules? With the wonder of science on Charlie’s side, can you doubt it?

Just like Estelle, my guest Silvi is entranced by the wonderful Poppazoid machine, a typically marvellous construction by Peter King, the Fortune’s erstwhile set designer, which does much more than simply produce popcorn. Silvi is instantly fascinated by the spectacular results of pouring boiling water on solid carbon dioxide (yes! dry ice!), then enraptured by the bubbles that release a puff of smoke when they burst.

From the intriguing machine, not magic but science, to the simple, affirming theme of friendship, all the elements of good children’s theatre are here. This is not surprising as playwright and director Jodie Bate, herself an acclaimed dancer/ actor, one-time presenter on TV2’s Go Show and currently an Interact tutor, is supremely well-qualified.  She is well supported by partner Kristopher Bate who has created the music, bouncy and engaging though sometimes a little loud, at this first performance, for me to catch all the words of the songs.

The actors establish a delightful rapport with each other and are individually captivating.  Lydia Bernard is Estelle, entirely suitably garbed in a frivolous red tutu topped naturally with a heavy duty bush-shirt and oh, a cast on her leg. Her accomplished skills of song and dance enhance a strong characterisation that allows the children to relate to Estelle’s imperfections. We love her even when she can’t cope with the disturbance that is Charlie, throws a temper tantrum and attacks the Poppazoid. 

Orion Carey-Clark is equally appealing as wacky Charlie, his long limbs serving him well as he idiosyncratically hip-hops and raps his way into our hearts. We are willing him to win over scoffing Estelle, his infectious enthusiasm for his machine (and its revolting popcorn flavours!) seeming more likely than his optimistic rap lyrics: “My friend Estelle, she don’t say much, but I’m sure she’s swell!” 

Both performers seize on any chance to interact with their warmly responsive audience, with Silvi and the rest especially charmed to be given generous time chatting with them after the show. Actors this good with their public could well invite more audience participation – the children are longing to offer Estelle advice on how to make amends to Charlie, and Silvi would have loved to help repair the Poppazoid.  But we do get to examine it at the end: a true inspiration to all the budding scientists! I hope this worthy production, funded partly by Creative NZ, DANZ and the University of Otago, will have a life beyond our Science Festival.

Many of those involved in this production, including the two fine actors, would have had paid employment at the Fortune before the end of the year. By now we should have been seeing exciting home-grown theatre by NZ playwrights: Dean Parker’s Macbeth, Anya Tate-Manning’s Baba Yaga, Benjamin Henson’s Hansel and Gretel, with Emily Duncan’s award-winning Eloise in the Middle and Abby Howells’s Snow White to come – in fact the whole Festival of Women’s Work that was to be the Fortune’s contribution to NZ Theatre Month.

It is some slight comfort that the valiant theatre community is soldiering on, with exciting projects like this involving writers like Bate, actors Bernard and Carey-Clark, designer King, advisers like Martyn Roberts, and production assistants like Cindy Diver and Shannon Colbert. Dunedin theatre artists are showing courage and imagination in their struggle to keep professional theatre alive in the city. Grown-ups have dreams too.  


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