February 01, 2008

Boy Story


The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy

Written by Finegan Kruckemeyer, conceived by Andy Packer

Slingsby Productions

The Space, Adelaide Festival Centre

January 24.

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

The summer season of young people’s theatre at the Festival Centre has provided a fine opportunity for Slingsby Productions to show their wares. Artistic Director Andy Packer sees his company’s brief as providing “emotionally complex and original stories” with high production values. He refers to Slingsby’s work as “theatrickery” – which is an odd portmanteau to use because the current production The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy is appealing precisely because of its directness and transparency.

Under the bleached canvas of a travelling minstrel show tent, pitched in the middle of The Space, Andy Packer, designer Wendy Todd and lighting wiz Geoff Cobham have set the aromatic atmospherics for an exotic flight of whimsy and imagination. Surrounded by intricate and ornate little cabinets and chests of drawers, tiny props, a portable sandpit and a battered old trunk which opens up to become a miniature red curtain theatre, storyteller actor Stephen Sheehan unfolds the story of Cheeseboy who, yes, is made of clotted protein, and leaves his doomed planet and (herein lies the tragedy) his melted family, to fly to other worlds including our own.

After initially migrating by flying boat, he discovers (after some ethical pondering about eating cheese when you are made of it) that a nibble of brie can enable him to fly through the heavens. He visits the moon just as it inexplicably goes missing, leaving him, and us, with neither gloaming or tides. He meets gypsies who befriend him and teach him the principles of astronomy and astrology. In short, he has epic adventures discovering his inner strengths, the kindness of strangers and the wonders of the wider world.

The credits indicate that this is an Andy Packer idea with a script  by Fin Kruckemeyer. It is a rambling, literary tale in seven chapters (each with an egg timer to mark its unfolding) which enjoys references to mackerel and Argonauts, has characters named Franciscus and Annabella Donna, discusses the physics of the lunar cycle, and engages in amusing asides to parents and wide-eyed groundlings alike.  The magic lantern effects, video projections (ably managed by Sophie Hyde and Roland Partis), delicate coloured lighting and an enchantingly melodic score by Quentin Grant give Cheeseboy the ambience of an Edwardian picturebook- reminiscent of the Arabian Nights of Arthur Rackham or a fantasy by Maxfield Parrish but also with the currency of 21st century intergalactic travel.

As narrator, Stephen Sheehan is again excellent. This time last year he featured memorably as the wolf in Patch Theatre’s Pigs, Bears and Billy Goats Gruff. He has an inventive, playful comedy which is  fresh and connects vividly to his audience. Sheehan’s performance (and that of silent partner Sam McMahon) ensures that any feyness or obscurity in the text is given a matter-of-fact directness which extends and intrigues the audience even when the material may be unfamiliar or puzzling. With The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy, Slingsby Productions have added a welcome new voice to children’s theatre in Adelaide. Both Patch and Windmill have already set the bar high, but with a talented team of old and new hands, Cheeseboy has swooped up to meet it.

The Adelaide Review, No.334, Feb 1, 2008, p.18

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