The Dragon of an Ordinary Family

The Red Brick Hall, Wellington

01/07/2006 - 15/07/2006

Production Details

Adapted by Carl Nixon from the book by Margaret Mahy
Directed by Beatrice Papazoglou


Acclaimed playwright Carl Nixon, has delightfully transformed this much-loved children’s story by New Zealand’s most famous children’s writer.

An ordinary family finds themselves in an extraordinary situation when Dad goes a bit far to prove he’s no “fuddy duddy”!! Go on a wild and hilarious adventure with Gail Belsaki and her family as they face the unusual, yet exhilarating challenge of having a dragon for a pet!

Margaret Mahy has recently been announced as the winner of the 2006 Hans Christian Andersen Award. This award is the highest international recognition given to an author and an illustrator of children’s books.

Carl Nixon has twice won the Sunday Star Times Short Story Contest (1997 and 1999) and was runner up in the prestigious Katherine Mansfield Literary Awards in 1999. His recent work for theatre includes adapting Nobel Prize winner J. M. Coetzee’s Booker Prize winning novel Disgrace for Auckland Theatre Company. KidzStuff has produced many of his plays for children, including The Owl and The Pussycat and The Three Little Pigs. Carl is currently Writer In Residence at Canterbury University where he is working on his first novel.

Beatrice Papazoglou, directing her first KidzStuff production, is a graduate of both Victoria University and Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School. She comes from a family that is anything but ordinary… they all work in the theatre! Her next adventure will take her to Shanghai!

The talented cast includes Deborah Lawrence, a graduate of The New Zealand College of Performing Arts, who performed in Rapunzel last year. Renee Sheridan, a graduate of Toi Whakaari, who most recently appeared in Death of a Salesman at Circa. Kylie O’Callaghan, another Toi Whakaari graduate. Jason Chasland , who has been awarded a scholarship for excellence in singing, performed at the Globe with the 2002 Young Shakespeare Company and whose considerable singing skills were seen in  Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris at Circa Theatre last year and Jon Paul McGowan, who has appeared in The Dresser and Agatha Christie’s Love From a Stranger, as well as writing his own plays.

Performance Times:

Monday – Friday 11 am and 1 pm
Saturdays at 11 am.

Tickets $10
Groups of 4+ $9.00 each
Groups of 10+ $8.00 each
with special prices for holiday programmes

Bookings:  phone 385 0292

Deborah Lawrence
Renee Sheridan
Kylie O'Callaghan
Jason Chasland
Jon Paul McGowan

Theatre ,

Magic for children #1

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 03rd Jul 2006

The Dragon of an Ordinary Family, based on a Margaret Mahy story, is firmly in the tradition of English pantomime with a story familiar to its intended audience and full of comedy, song, dance, an occasional joke for the parents, and audience involvement,

Margaret Mahy’s story with a dragon that first appears small enough to fit into a tiny box and then grows so large it cannot fit into the Belsaki’s home looks like pretty intractable material for the stage. Add a flying trip for the Belsaki family, a nosey neighbour and the dragon to the Isles of Magic and you would think a better medium to translate this story into would be a cartoon film.

Beatrice Papazoglu has wisely kept her production simple and in the tried and true manner of previous Carl Nixon adaptations of children’s stories for numerous Kidzstuff productions. This hour-long show works well enough but the Isles of Magic have to be described and a bit of theatrical magic wouldn’t have gone amiss.

It was good to see that the dragon did actually breathe smoke at one point, and it was also good to see both Richard Knowles and Kylie O’Callaghan get some comedy respectively out of the roles of the heroine’s fuddy-duddy daddy and the snobbish neighbour who thinks property values will fall because red-heads have moved into the street.


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At best Dragon flies, but ...

Review by John Smythe 02nd Jul 2006

The wondrous imagination of Margaret Mahy is an ideal resource for children’s theatre and prolific playwright Carl Nixon has adapted three of them (along with two other dragon tales and at least nine well-known folk stories).

For these holidays Wellington’s Kidz Stuff Theatre for Children offers the Mahy magic with Nixon’s adaptation of The Dragon of an Ordinary Family, at the Red Brick Hall (Cambridge Terrace). It’s good, take the kids, they’ll enjoy it and so will you.

That said, this review will approach it from a craft perspective, given its readers are most likely to be adults.

Mahy’s 1969 story tells of the ordinary Belsaki family, Mrs, Mr and their little boy Gaylord. When Mrs B asks Mr B to buy a pet for Gaylord and he resists, she calls him a fuddy-duddy. And to show he’s not, Mr B brings home a tiny pet dragon.

Not being ordinary is a plus all round. But the dragon grows and grows, too big for them to feed, the Mayor issues an ultimatum … And the family can no longer afford a Christmas holiday away – until the dragon offers to take them to the Isles of Magic, where fairytale people and creatures dwell.

Their poetically described experiences are exotic and fanciful, in what has becomes classical Mahy style. Conveniently the dragon decides to stay and the Belsakis return to their ordinary lives with a little black kitten who in turn promises to prove extraordinary too.

In Nixon’s adaptation Gaylord becomes Gail and the demand to be ordinary is personified in a busybody neighbour called Mrs Croucher: "a thoroughly unlikeable woman". Her fear of a family of redheads moving in next door makes its satirical point when Mr B refers to her "redheads under the beds" obsession.

Nixon’s Mahy-esque payoff is that Mrs Croucher hitches a ride to the Isles of Magic and is reunited with her long lost pirate husband, John, who was shipwrecked there years ago. (Actually the programme calls him Orpheus Clinker, the central character of Mahy’s The Great Piratical Rumbustification – also adapted by Nixon – but the name’s not used in performance.)

All good stuff in principle but more needs to be done to engage the audience in Mrs Croucher’s role as the ‘villain’ of the piece. As it stands, the audience – very willing, at the opening performance, to call out and get involved- just turn off her. Mrs Croucher (Kylie O’Callaghan) needs to set up a "We don’t want that here, now do we?" game, or something like it, with the audience.

The petshop lady, Mrs Clutterback, is also developed from Mahy’s nondescript pet shop man, and also played by O’Callaghan, with a thick accent that mixes Irish with Yorkshire. And she too needs work, given that when she’s being squeezed by a snake – and Mr Belsaki, played by Richard Knowles in excellent physical and vocal form, is being too pedantic and opinionated to notice – the audience does nothing to help her.

With such clear feedback from the compulsively honest young audience, I’d like to think director Beatrice Papazoglou and her cast will to all they can to resolve these issues over the next two weeks.

As Gail, Deborah Lawrence establishes a strong rapport with the audience although, for my taste, she could have come across as a much more realistic Kiwi girl, rather than exhibit the somewhat forced physical and vocal brightness adult actors so often bring to their child characterisations. In this play especially the "ordinary family" premise demands it.

Renée Sheridan hits an authentic tone as Mrs Belsaki and doubles well as The Dragon before it gets too big for more than its tail to be seen on stage, but the American accent is a shock. Why? Where in mythology (Disneyfications aside) have dragons resided in America? This is a pet thing for me: I truly believe we have a serious responsibility to let our children know that fantasy and delight do not have to sound American to be credible.

As I understand it, this choice was made because Jon Paul McGowan, who provides the Dragon’s adult voice, is American. But he also plays, with credible competence, the Mayor in a neutral English accent and the Pirate in a Southern English accent, so why couldn’t he have done a Welsh dragon, say? Or even a Chinese one? With all due respect to his mother tongue, Kiwi kids are so inundated with American product, they don’t need it added where it doesn’t belong. Would a Kiwi actor working in America play a grizzly bear, for example, in a Kiwi accent? No. (See also my comments on the moa with the American accent in No Moa at Downstage last April.)

I could quibble too about Mr Belsaki wearing a bowler hat. While it may be true to the original Helen Oxenbury illustrations, it has to be said they were extremely English and surely, if the point is to start the story in an ordinary family setting readily recognised by the audience, then Kiwi suburbia would be the appropriate look.

All these concerns aside, the well-paced and clearly expressed show engages an innocently responsive audience a treat. Knowles’ comic business with looking for his hat and briefcase, and the response this generates from the floor, is but one example of how well it all works most of the time.

Staging-wise, the most magical moment is beautifully simple, when the family stands on the table and – amid a change of lighting – make us believe they are flying on the Dragon’s back. Mahy’s great strength is her imagination and when this play inspires ours by theatrical means, it flies.


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