The Grumpiest Child in the World
09/09/2023 - 09/09/2023
26/09/2023 - 28/09/2023
Written by Finegan Kruckemeyer
Directed by Awhimai Fraser, in collaboration with Moana Ete
Te reo Māori additions by James Tito
Original music and lyrics by Awhimai Fraser and Moana Ete
Capital E National Theatre for Children
Proudly presented by Nōku te Ao Capital E’s National Theatre for Children, The Grumpiest Child in the World is an endearing tale of self-discovery based on Finegan Kruckemeyer’s international award-winning play.
Natalie Briddling is a world-class grump (according to her mum). Wanting to stand out, Natalie is hōhā with feeling average, ordinary, and middling, so she sets out on “probably the most amazing adventure ever!”
Her magical journey takes her down an awa, up a maunga, meeting strange and wondrous beings along the way. Characters who in the beginning frustrate and anger her might turn out to be new friends.
Te reo Māori is thoughtfully peppered through The Grumpiest Child in the World, where the audience can enjoy learning new kupu with the performers. Delighting tamariki and whānau around the world since its debut in 2013, this show encourages tamariki to embrace their feelings and emotions and celebrate ordinariness and extraordinariness.
9 September 2023 – Whirinaki Whare Taonga, Upper Hutt
16 September 2023 – Te Raukura Ki Kāpiti, Kāpiti
26-28 September 2023 – Hannah Playhouse, Wellington
14 October 2023 – ONEONESIX, Whangārei
23 October 2023 – Toitoi, Functions on Hastings, Hastings
4 November 2023 – NBS Theatre, Westport
Times and prices vary
Poe Tiare Tararo
Stage manager/ Technical Operator: Nick Batey
Set design/ construction: Asha Barr
Soundscape: Oliver Devlin
Costume Designer: Te Ura Hoskins
Lighting Designer: Marc Freeman
Children’s , Theatre ,
A playful kitchen sink quest for uniqueness
Review by Francis Gallop 10th Sep 2023
Finegan Kruckemeyer is a prolifically successful playwright. In 2022 alone, 38 productions of his plays were staged in six countries. An Irish kid who moved to Australia, Kruckemeyer is now writing for a global audience. And this show has echoes of tales from other places; the world found in the back of a wardrobe and the child who gathers companions including a talking lion. However, Capital E’s national tour fluidly interweaves te reo Māori, courtesy of James Tito, locating us firmly in Aotearoa.
We start on a high, warmly welcomed with waiata that deftly incorporates NZSL. We get to meet the actors before they shift into character. This may be useful for younger tamariki who might not have encountered the conventions of theatre before, and it also establishes the language of a piece in which telling and pretending are both childlike and sophisticated.
Natalie Briddling is seven and, according to her Mum, “a world class grump”. What is she so grumpy about? To adult eyes her parents seem warm hearted, reasonable folk, but Mum really isn’t seeing the genius of Natalie’s latest chalk drawing. In it, Queen Natalie totes a laser enhanced crown and is adored by her subjects; it should clearly be in a gallery not just stuck on the fridge.
Natalie’s problem, according to her “Science Person” – a mixture of internal voice and narrator in a white coat – is that Briddling is middling, 1000% average with an every-girl face. She yearns to have “a smidgen of amazing” and so the scene is set for a quest into imaginary worlds. She departs through the wardrobe, or in this case a kitchen cupboard, with a pīkau and a muesli bar.
What follows is a fast-paced journey through multiple locations and encounters conjured from the contents of the kitchen / laundry. Natalie is swept along an awa of sheets to meet a giant in a cave. In a city she encounters a girl with hair so long she tucks it in her socks. Below a desert of cacti there live a race of tiny people.
Rather than being amazed by these extraordinary beings, Natalie thinks only to impress them with her own uniqueness – “See how small I am giant!” – and in each case she is thwarted. The long haired girl shares her exact birthday, the giant is delighted to see they have the same watch, even the same ringtone, and ALL the little people under the cactus are called Natalie. The uniqueness she craves is not even to be found in imaginary lands.
This presents Mia Alonso–Green with, what seems to me, a tough challenge for an actor. In a traditional quest the heroine usually progresses through trial and adversity by virtue of her courage, wisdom, determination and even wily humour. Natalie goes from feeling hōhā about the giant and their watch, to maximum grumpiness by the time she reaches her final destination, Grump Town. That may be needed for the story arc, but it’s a tricky act to hold our engagement and sympathy for Natalie through this ever-increasing frustration. Mia’s performance balances recharged determination to counter the sullen defeats and there is a welcome and tender moment of song in the middle of the journey that re-connects us with her vulnerability and hope.
Meanwhile, a host of other characters keep the audience engaged. We first meet Poe Tiare Tararo as Natalie’s busy Mum, comfortable enough to indulge her runaway quest, confidently knowing she’ll be back in time for shepherd’s pie. The story romps along at such a pace that the cast sometimes have just a line or two to skilfully sketch a character. Of Poe’s many roles, it is her gentle, funny giant I would have liked to have spent more stage time with. It’s a treat.
Roy Iro is Natalie’s Dad, a smiling, slightly absent-minded presence, looking for his coffee mug. He brings a big-hearted warmth to each character, including the huge fanged lion of Grump Town and even the echoing void of the perilous cave. The audience (school performances are aimed at ākonga 5 years and up) never has cause for real fear.
Once at Grump Town Natalie finally gets the approbation she seeks, out-grumping the grumpy natives. In this she is supported by her posse of accumulated friends, each using their unique talents. Finally she is Queen of somewhere. Like Dorothy returning to Kansas, the new friends morph back into whānau and our quest is complete.
Awhimai Fraser’s direction is confident, tight and pacey. It needs to be. There is a lot of content in this story, a lot of ideas and information for a young audience to take in. Awhima and directorial collaborator Moana Ete have also produced fresh musical content for their cast of strong harmonic singers. The run time of the show may already be challenging for younger tamariki, but the musical moments bookending the show bring a real swell of energy. They leave me wanting more and wondering whether song could play a role in some of the wordier sections of the text.
The staging is swift and clever. Asha Barr’s compact and ingenious design runs with the concept of Natalie’s chalk drawing world, expanded across the domestic furnishings. Locations are simultaneously rearranged and sketched with vivid childlike haste.
Te Ura Taripo-Hoskins’ costume design emphasises the middling Briddling world. Natalie, clad in coffee-coloured dungarees, lives in a palette of neutral tones. The fantastical, when it comes, comes not in sudden splashes of colour or explosions of light but in the transformation of commonplace items; two steam irons become giant mice. A giant bird flies on feather duster wings. The power lies in the usage and the telling, but not entirely.
Oliver Devlin lends the imagination a hand with rich soundscapes and few high profile cues – notably the tiny chorus of cactus dwellers and the great blasts of grumpiness in the final Grump Town show down.
The questions that linger with me after the show are unconnected with the quality of this strong production. They are with the text. I realise that I’ve really warmed to Hirsute, the Giant and the little cactus people. On meeting a stranger, they celebrate what they have in common, what connects them. They aren’t concerned with establishing their uniqueness. I have seen the show with my own kids, who have no desire to be monarchs of anywhere, or become Insta influencers. In a time of growing youth anxiety about isolation and self-image I am left pondering the social skills and value of connection, and the cultural aspirations of uniqueness. Which is the greater challenge for our children now, standing out or fitting in?
A playful kitchen sink quest for uniqueness, The Grumpiest Child in the World is on tour for the next seven weeks playing a mix of schools and theatre venues. The luckiest audiences will be those who see at their kura. It’s a show that will thrive in more intimate and lively spaces, where the cast and audience will really bounce off each other.
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