By Jennifer Martin
Directed by Kerryn Palmer
TAPAC, Auckland | October 3-5
I’ve never reviewed a kid’s show before and I can count the number I’ve been to on one hand. So often they are hastily made shows with expensive costumes and under-rehearsed actors that rip-off some fairy tale and pander to the youngest children in the audience. Despite the cutesy title, Ivy, Saviour of the Dinosaur is something much more.
It’s a difficult show to summarise or give a synopsis of: the audience is a tour group who has gotten lost in the basement of a museum, where the janitor, the bizarre Yorkshire-bred Ivy (Brynley Stent), finds them and proceeds to take them on a time-travelling trip to save the dinosaurs. As you do. Characters from history, like Galileo, Richard Pierce, and in one bizarre cameo, Adolf Hitler, show up.
It’s a ridiculous premise, but one that is played with both delicacy and fierce commitment by Stent. Her Ivy is a character that we immediately love and feel for, and she copes with the curveballs that the young audience throws her with incredible game. She’s also clearly having a lot of fun with the character, as much as the audience is. Nick Dunbar plays all the other roles, dialling each of his cameos up to eleven, which pays comic dividends. When he and Stent are onstage together, comedic magic brews and again, it is a treat to watch.
The performances are what make this show truly special and worth seeing for people of any ages, but the design elements make a good case for themselves. Gareth Farr seems almost ridiculously overqualified to be doing the score, which is appropriately comic and then touching, especially towards the end. He lends the production a gravitas and affecting ending that I truly wasn’t expecting, and it caught me off-guard. Likewise, Alice Hill’s set initially seems to be just a basement, but the apparently haphazardly arranged set of rubbish turns out to be setting up some ace jokes later on, especially some dinosaur-themed shadow puppetry. Ivy’s time machine is a special piece of design: a trash cart turned into a Back to the Future-worthy mode of transportation, complete with haze and flashing lights.
Ivy, Saviour of the Dinosaur is what it is. It’s a kid show; one that’s designed to keep kids occupied and make their imagination run wild during the holidays. But that in itself is an artform, and Ivy is that particular artform at its very height, with one performer doing especially grand work. Plain and simple: it’s a delight.
* * *
Presented by Blackbird Ensemble
Directed by Claire Cowan
Q Theatre, Auckland | October 2-4
Blackbird Ensemble are doing brave, vital, exceptionally entertaining work. That’s the most important thing you need to know. Their previous show, The Wilderness, remains one of the most stunning and immediate experiences I’ve had in a theatre this year. This time in the much more imposing Rangatira Space, The Blackbird Ensemble tackle a much larger concept: the night sky.
While The Wilderness had a smaller scope in grappling with Max Richter’s interpretation of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (along with some winning covers of pop songs), The Night Sky has a much wider scope in terms of music. All the song choices have their gaze pointed upwards. Even the songs you might expect—some obvious Bowie tracks and ‘Man on the Moon’, for instance—are splendid, but especially so are the songs they have dug up from artists’ back catalogues. These include Portishead’s ‘Wandering Star’ and Bat for Lashes’ ‘Two Planets’, and even deeper into the darker recesses of pop music, CocoRosie’s ‘The Moon Asked The Crow’. Their selections are as delightful as seeing them played, and it shows the company’s breadth and attention to detail.
As with The Wilderness, half the pleasure in coming to the show is actually watching it. The musicians are all decked out in costume and makeup, in this instance with some kitschy wigs and neon lashes and lips. The lead vocalists are the most impressively decked out: Alex Taylor with a Bowie-inspired lighting bolt and Tesla-coiled wig, and Jessie Cassin in a silver jumpsuit covered in spikes. It’s a gentle nod to science fiction, one that is played up throughout the rest of the design.
Brad Gledhill and Rachel Marlow’s design is excellent, meeting the needs of a ridiculously wide variety of songs while keeping the show within a solid look. The use of practical lights underneath the musicians leads to some especially lovely images, and the use of reds towards the end of the show is incredibly effective. Throughout the show, there are beautiful projections—of the Milky Way, city lights from space, and in a particularly poignant and moving choice, the New Zealand starscapes. These come courtesy of Joseph Michael, and they only add to the look of the entire show.
This Blackbird Ensemble show is in collaboration with Dust Palace, New Zealand’s premiere theatrical circus company, and three performers, Eve Gordon, Edward Clendon, and Rochelle Mangan, lend their incredible skills to the songs. Clendon is especially impressive on the silks, lending beautiful images to the sounds that the Ensemble are creating.
With The Wilderness, Blackbird Ensemble turned me into a fan. With The Night Sky, they turned me into a fanboy. The work they are doing is so brave and risk-taking, dragging theatre to music and throwing music right up against the window of the theatrical, while also being utterly delightful and engaging to even the most casual audience member. Don’t just see this show; see any of their shows. You won’t be disappointed.