Frankly this is a wonderful show; well cast, well conceptualized. And a must see on the Canberra theatre circuit. In fact, it would be a damn shame if this show doesn’t tour to other venues across Australia. It is a great showcase for the Jigsaw Theatre Company which has been a leading children’s theatre maker for over 30 years, but also for the seemingly little known fact that great theatre work does actually get made in Canberra.
The book of the same name comes from the award winning Australian children’s writer Sally Murphy, and lends itself well to theatrical adaptation without many, if any, changes to the text. It tells the tale (in verse, or more accurately poetically) of a young girl, Pearl, who lives in an entirely modern family of three – her, her mum and her gran. Gran is dying and trapped by her diminishing health, and Pearl is trying to navigate the difficulties of school and learning and friends and authority. The show is in part about sickness, old age, and death, but also a gentle call-to-arms for younger people to question and interrogate the things they are taught, especially in school. Her teacher is almost fanatical about rhyming verse but Pearl’s poems don’t rhyme, and she doesn’t see why they should.
The director, Justine Campbell, has chosen a highly physical process of realising the piece which supports not only the spirit of the story but the story– telling perfectly. The design — set (Imogen Keen, lighting (Nick Merrylees) and sound (Kimmo Vennonen) — is the appropriate mix of the everyday and metaphoric, striking the balance between the abstract and the concrete, with a few measured but highly effective magic moments built in. Kate Hosking does a great job as Pearl, as does Chrissie Shaw as Gran. In fact, all elements come together to create an outwardly simple but affecting piece, that deals with the subject at hand with respect and humour. It’s stated that the target audience is 8 –11 year olds, however I witnessed younger children in the audience who’s attention was held and many adults, like myself, who were definitely rewarded for the time and energy of getting out to the theatre.