The peanuts kids are all grown up. That’s the premise for Melbourne-based independent troupe Boutique Theatre’s latest production Dog Sees God, currently playing at the Brunswick Mechanics Institute.
If you’re a fan, you’ll delight in playwright Bert V. Royal’s creation of troubled teens inspired by Charles Schulz’s legendary Peanuts comic strip. If you don’t know anything about the Peanuts characters never fear, these teenagers are pretty recognisable. The play is packed with scenes exploring bullying, sexual identity, drinking, drugs and the effects thereof.
Leading ensemble member Christopher Welldon explains, “It’s a black comedy, and I mean that. It goes dark. But when there is comedy, it’s hilarious!”
Though the play itself has not been authorised or approved by the Charles M. Schulz Foundation, bringing the role of Charlie Brown to life (albeit a parodied version) is a dream come true for Welldon. “I’ve always over identified with the character of Charlie Brown, probably in a way that reflects poorly on me. It’s a weird feeling, having an affinity with a children’s comic strip character.”
A self-professed – and industry recognised – funny guy, Welldon has found the seemingly natural process of stepping into the role of Charlie Brown, quite a challenge. “In life I lean towards being more of a clown. In this play, my character is the straight one. I get no punch lines. The other characters all do, and they are so good at it. It infuriates me!”
Before entering the rehearsal room, Welldon didn’t know any of his fellow cast members. “They are all so talented, it is intimidating. I love them all dearly now.”
One of those talented ensemble members is Cazz Bainbridge who echoed Welldon’s sentiment calling the cast “a wonderful group of creative, generous and super fun people”.
Transplanting the Peanuts gang into adolescence and seeing how they cope with real issues. Super fun, indeed! “There are little references to things that happened in the cartoon. We’ve tried to put a lot of them into the design as well”, says Bainbridge.
At 28 years of age, Bainbridge has enjoyed playing a teenager for this production. “I am grateful because I’ve had that experience. It’s helpful being able to look back at your 17-year-old self.”
Bainbridge credits her time in New York training in the Meisner Technique for giving her the tools to access the emotional life required for her role as Van’s sister, Lucy. “The most valuable part of the training was the emotional work. I found it useful for this role in particular. We have to show the vulnerability of these high school students; how insecure they are, how they care about what people think, how crushing that can be in a high school setting.”
Though the play is all about teenagers, it will appeal to a wider audience. Bainbridge says, “It has a teen movie feel, but it has a little more heart than those movies”. Welldon adds, “It’s about trying to figure out where you fit and how life works.”
If there’s anyone who knows a thing or two about finding your place, it’s Welldon. After moving house a staggering 59 times in his lifetime, he says he feels settled in Melbourne. Welldon arrived five years ago to pursue a comedy writing opportunity for ‘Rove’. “I wrote some jokes and they used them, so I was put on retainer for the rest of the season, but then Rove announced he was retiring. I got a grand total of 6 weeks work, so I can legitimately put on my resume that I was a comedy TV writer. I don’t need to say how long it was for.”
The Dog Sees God ensemble has been working two days a week since January under the direction of creative duo Byron Bache and Emma Caldwell. Bainbridge says, “They work really well together. They have a very similar vision and are open to suggestions. It’s been great having two sets of eyes.”
As with most independent projects, the majority of the cast are juggling a number of creative projects with various jobs. Welldon says, “ I work full time and do this in all the spare time I can possibly muster!”
How does Bainbridge juggle her love of performing with her day job? “It’s funny, I find when I am really busy I get the most stuff done. I was dabbling in casual work waiting for the next thing, then I took on full time work and it’s been back-to-back acting projects.” After the season of Dog Sees God Bainbridge will once again be juggling her regular work with the demands of shooting a feature film. She says, “Ultimately, the dream is to do acting full time and not have to have the day job, but we’ll see.”
Boutique Theatre’s production of Dog Sees God plays at the Mechanics Institute (Cnr Glenlyon and Sydney Rds, Brunswick) until 29 March. Cast includes: Christopher Welldon, Cazz Bainbridge, Doug Lyons, Carly Milroy, Rohan Mirchandaney, Claire Pearson, Nicholas Rhodes and Themie Zgonis.
Info/Tickets: Boutique Theatre