Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Masquerade, 22 Oct 2015 ***

By Kate Mulvany, based on the book by Kit Williams
By Griffin Theatre Company & State Theatre of South Australia
Melbourne Festival
Southbank Sumner Theatre; 22 to 25 October
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review published in Sunday Herald Sun on Sun 25 Oct & later online (on or after Mon 26 Oct 2015).KH

Kit Williams’ beautifully illustrated and wildly successful children’s puzzle book, Masquerade, was the first ‘armchair treasure hunt’ and the hunt continues in Kate Mulvany’s play based on this UK publishing phenomenon.

To create the script, Mulvany uses the characters, locations and riddles that Williams embedded in his vividly coloured, intricately detailed illustrations.

In a simple story, the Moon (Kate Cheel) falls in love with the Sun (Mikelangelo) so she sends her servant, Jack Hare (Nathan O’Keefe), to deliver to the Sun her message of love with a gloriously bejewelled, golden amulet that depicts a running hare.

Into this tale of love and mortality, Mulvany cunningly weaves a second narrative thread about Joe (Jack Andrew), a child suffering cancer and trapped in his hospital room, and his mother, Tessa (Helen Dallimore), who diverts him with readings from Masquerade.

Joe’s story mirrors Mulvany’s own childhood cancer and her enchantment with this same book that soothed, cheered and distracted her during her illness.

Jack Hare reaches the Sun but has lost the amulet and forgotten the love message, so Joe and Tessa continue the story as they hunt for the lost amulet in a passionate, possibly ill-fated desire to save Joe from mortality.

O’Keefe is engaging, spirited and impudent as Jack Hare who addresses the audience directly, inserting modern references, cheeky asides and jokes.

Dallimore is warmly genuine as Joe’s mum and her profound need to save her son is trumpeted in her impassioned blues lament, while Jack Andrew is sympathetic as her ailing child.

Cheel brings a melancholy narcissism to the Moon and dizzy charm to Tara Treetops, while Zindzi Okenyo is a riot as the dancing Fat Pig.

Williams’ book relies on images and a few succinct, well-crafted lines of text, but the dialogue in the play is more wordy and sometimes too dense, slowing the pace of the action.

Although William’s paintings cannot be perfectly translated to the stage, Anna Cordingley’s costumes capture much of their vibrancy and playfulness.

Co-directors, Sam Strong and Lee Lewis, place Joe’s prison-like hospital room in the centre of the fantastical world of creatures and dreams that his imagination conjures as mum reads the book.

The production could be tighter and faster-paced and some judicious dialogue editing and snappier cueing could contract the show into a single act.

Some well-placed, sharply choreographed physical comedy and dance and a few short, singable songs for kids would enhance this production and probably make it more accessible for children.

Live music and songs by Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen lend the flavour of gypsy music and European folk tunes with their featured accordion, violin and guitar, although some of the songs are repetitive in style and tone.

Pip Branson’s feisty, versatile violin gives resonance to The Man Who Plays the Music That Makes The World Go Round.

The blend of sadness, joy and concepts of mortality may be unsuitable for small children, but families can go on an ‘armchair treasure hunt’ with Joe who is inspired by a book that allows him to escape his pain, however briefly.

By Kate Herbert

Co-directors: Sam Strong and Lee Lewis
Music: Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen

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