Wednesday, 26 November 2003

Babes in the Woods by Tom Wright, Nov 26, 2003

 Babes in the Woods  
 by Tom Wright  Playbox Theatre
 Merlin Theatre, CUB Malthouse, Nov 26 to Dec 13, 2003  
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 26, 2003

Tom Wright's pseudo-colonial panto, Babes in the Woods, is a rollicking good night. The audience came out smiling- a good sign.

This is not the style pantomime that features Neighbours stars. It is a tougher, less anodyne, more adult and political piece with a fine ensemble.

Running through the story of two abandoned children is a thread of criticism of our government, history and treatment of asylum seekers.

There is a play within a play. We see off-stage shenanigans between actors and then see them in the absurdist  panto story.

Auntie Avaricia,  the panto dame, is played within the play by the controlling drunken actor-manager of the company who is then played with relish by the extraordinary Max Gillies.  

Avaricia takes in her squeaky clean, recently orphaned niece, Ruby,  (Caroline Craig) and nephew, Reggie (Lucy Taylor).

In order to snaffle their inheritance, she sends her servants to take them into the forbidding Aussie bush and kill them.

The servants are a stupid, kindly and forgetful emu, Flapgherkin,  (Francis Greenslade) and his homicidal pal, Boingle,  (Julie Forsyth) a cruel, manipulative wallaby.

Add to the mix Avaricia's balletic, sensitive daughter, Phyllis  (Diane Emry) and her love interest, Jack,  (Eddie Perfect) the self-absorbed, heroic pioneer, and we have a tasty cast of characters.

The babes' story is a metaphor for Australian naivete. Politically, we are lost in the woods. Intercut with panto scenes are comical snatches of a jingoistic social history of Australia.

A mad dream sequence shows us our past fairytale old Baghdad. Gillies gives us a lesson in Australia's fight against terrorism - even before Federation.

The production, directed with a fine sense of clown and satire by Michael Kantor,  is riddled with anachronistic songs and absurd references.

We see Amanda Vanstone  singing Nutbush City Limits and Jack singing Hello, This Is Joanie.

Iain Grandage  plays wonderful, energetic panto piano live on stage. Lighting by Paul Jackson  paints a broad palette of evocative colour over a clever design by Anna Tregloan.

Gillies is a consummate lead with impeccable timing and Eddie Perfect has a rich singing voice and a wry humour as Jack. This hearty and lovable ensemble is clearly having heaps of fun.

By Kate Herbert

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