Beanstalk // SeeSaw
Review by Rosalind Appleby
“Very funny, very charming, this was obviously and audibly adored by the youngsters in the audience, but has plenty for grown-ups to love.”
There’s nothing like the magic of the theatre.
Take a darkened room full of expectant children, a stage set with a quaint kitchen packed with curious items, and a playful tune that sounds like cartoon music. All it takes is one goose to pop its head around a cupboard and the children are squealing with laughter.
Beanstalk marks the return to the theatre of Perth’s popular puppet theatre company and the team behind the new production know how to create theatrical magic. Director Philip Mitchell’s team includes lighting designer Kristie Smith and set designer Bryan Woltjen who have created a set that is an enthralling mix of whimsy and science laboratory, with bits that open, light up and erupt. Composer Lee Buddle brings a playful touch with his sound design and Jackson Harrison’s puppets are key. At the epicentre is comedian Sam Longley, the show’s writer and solo performer.
Longley is Brian, a cloud giant with a ripper Aussie accent who is a bit fearful of “groundlers” like us after his experience with Jack. In his kindly way Brian describes Jack as “relaxed” rather than lazy. Brian just wants to make his clouds and live in peace so when Jack steals Brian’s gold, his harp and his goose, Brian tries to maintain his kindness. After all, “aggression is disarmed when met with kindness”.
My seven year old loved Longley’s re-interpretation of Jack and the Beanstalk. “It was good to hear a different version of the story, to hear what the giant thought and see his point of view.”
In a fun creative twist the other characters in the story are devised from a motley collection of vegetables and items from Brian’s kitchen. Jack is a loaf of bread, his mother an elegant celery bunch, and there are squashable tomatoes and erupting popcorn kernels. You can imagine the delightful mess.
All does not go well for Brian and soon the audience members became vocal in their advice to the poor giant. The highlight of the show for my nine year old son was the final moment when (spoiler alert) Brian finally got to tear that loaf of bread apart.
Longley’s gags are good, (“You wouldn’t believe how much canyon giants eat, they’re like a bottomless pit)” and the story is highly relatable for children. Everyone knows what it is like to be accused of something they didn’t do, or picked on because of the way they look. The clouds are a lovely metaphor to unpack with older children, particularly the storm clouds which Brian makes when he is finding it difficult to contain his anger. He explains that with the storm comes rain and new life, an important part of the cycle.
Longley is 6 feet 10 inches tall, making him a very believable giant. And after years of working in stand-up comedy he knows how to win over a tough crowd, surely a helpful skill for children’s shows – no one is more honest than a child! He’s also a one-man band; at the Wednesday 1pm show he delivered some fun improv when props became unstuck, had an endearing manner with the vegetable characters, and gave the most engaging post-show Q&A my children have witnessed.
But holding the interest of a group of children for 50 minutes is a lot of pressure for one actor and a few vegetables and the magic did fade occasionally. The song “Fee Fi Fo Fum” was not in a flattering range for Longley’s voice and the plot was stalled by extensive back stories about Brian’s parents, and scientific interjections about cloud making which could have been more succinct. The side stories did allow for some fun set tricks though: a volcano in a saucepan, and cloud making on the kitchen bench with a fluffy substance that looked suspiciously like fairy floss.
DATE: Jan 11 – 30 | 10am & 1pm daily (except Sundays and public holidays)
BOOK TICKETS online or call 9335 5044