August 01, 2002

High Jinx

My Girragundji
by Meme McDonald and Boori Monty Prior
Bell Shakespeare Company
July, 2002

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge
Based on the book by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas
Windmill Performing Arts
Dunstan Playhouse

Windmill has opened its account with two excellent works. This new company dedicated to producing programs for families and children was a pet project for outgoing Arts Minister Diana Laidlaw and, boosted by a handsome operating grant, has now become one of the centrepieces in the diminishing list of funded companies in Adelaide. With so many eyes on Windmill’s progress, director/producer Cate Fowler has not disappointed with her school holiday double header – My Girragundji, an import from the Bell Company and Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, a brand new production developed here.

Adapted and directed by Chris Canute from the book by Meme McDonald and Boori Monty Prior, My Girragundji is a gentle work featuring the talented Luke Carroll as a young boy living in the tropical North, not only learning such rites of passage as turtle hunting -crocodiles and all- and facing the terrors of the mythical Hairyman, but dealing with the pressures of family and school as well.

With a nifty, compact set from Nichola McIntosh and sprightly soundscape from Sarah de Jong, this Bell Shakespeare production is pleasingly light in its touch, while creating a complex portrait of a boy who is not only part of a modern Aboriginal family but also has strong links with traditional lore. The appearance of the girragundji, the green tree frog, is simply and engagingly evoked by former Bangarra dancer Kirk Page. The ubiquitous creature becomes the boy’s protector against spirit ghosts as well as his confidant about the vicissitudes of schoolyard bullies, the indignities of bed wetting, even the intricacies of pre-teen courtship.

In contrast to the relaxed vernacular of My Girragundji is Windmill’s version of Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. Based on the lyrical text and expressive illustrations of Mem Fox and Julie Vivas’s classic children’s work first published in 1984, it almost wordless, its narrative told by giant puppets, created by Al Martinez and his team and splendidly moved by former Handspan maestro, Peter Wilson.

Director Neill Gladwin brings much of the warmth and whimsy of his Magpie production, Verona, that memorable mix of Romeo and Juliet and Buster Keaton which delighted audiences quite a few Come Outs ago. With Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, a story of a small boy and his visits to the old people’s home next door to his house, Gladwin smoothly combines the gigantic puppets on their verandah with the leafily framed federation house of Eamon D’Arcy’s lolly coloured set, and adds a chirpy soundtrack of old variety songs to remind us, undoubtedly, that happy days are here again.

But Mem Fox’s story is about memory and not nostalgia. And the problem for Nancy Alison Delacorte Cooper is that her memories are lost in the mists of age. It is only the lively presence of young Wilfrid which triggers her Proustian reveries of a girlhood playing with a marionette and collecting birds eggs and seashells, then, as a young woman, bidding farewell to a soldier in a Great War from which he never returns.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge is Mem Fox’s loving tribute to her own father to whom this production is dedicated. And with their merriment and stately movement, the puppet incarnations of Mrs Jordan and Mr Hosking , Mr Tippett, Mr Drysdale and Miss Mitchell, beautifully costumed by Kathryn Sproul and Vanessa Ellis, have a kind of grandeur that the elderly are rarely accorded in these crudely utilitarian times. Time has not diminished these people, it has made them giants in experience and wisdom.

Ninian Donald is excellent as Wilfrid, his ADT dance training perfectly suited to the energetic physicality with which he imbues the small boy. As he scoots about with his soccer ball, engages with the old people and larks about with the puppet chook which all but steals the show, there is a sense that whether you are very young or very old there is still time for some high jinx. We look forward to more from Windmill that similarly tilts towards the idea that nothing is more precious than what we can still imagine.

“Hi Jinx” The Adelaide Review, No.227, August, 2002, pp.23-4.

1 Comment »

  1. How can I obtain a copy of the script for stage of this??

    Comment by Anonymous — January 30, 2014 @ 10:01 pm

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