Kate Cheel on the challenges and fun of Children’s Theatre

L-R Emma J Hawkins, Patrick Graham, Kate Cheel Photo by Tony Lewis
L-R Emma J Hawkins, Patrick Graham, Kate Cheel
Photo by Tony Lewis

In the midst of an oppressive summer heat-wave, Aussie Theatre’s Annie Ferguson found a quiet air-conditioned corner to sit down with Kate Cheel and discuss her role in Big Bad Wolf, a children’s theatre production by Windmill Theatre, presented by Melbourne Theatre Company.

Big Bad Wolf, an original work written by Matthew Whittet, offers an alternative view of one of the world’s best-known fairy-tale characters. Maybe the Big Bad Wolf isn’t such a bad guy. Maybe he isn’t so terrifying and mean. Maybe he is actually a sweetheart, who loves origami and poetry. Maybe he could even be a vegetarian!

Commissioned to write the work by Adelaide-based Windmill Theatre, Whittet has developed Big Bad Wolf in conjunction with the South Australian cast members, giving the actors limitless possibilities for experimentation in the rehearsal room. Kate, who has largely worked with classic theatre texts, describes the daunting prospect of working with a new text: “Children’s theatre was a huge learning curve for me. Considering this is a new work, there is no reference point for the characters … so we could just do anything, which was kind of terrifying but also fun.”

Kate’s role in the show is particularly demanding; she plays everything from a flea, to a talking couch, to a television presenter. “In my audition they just put on the music and said to me, ‘Okay, just dance like a couch, or dance like a flea’. It was really hard to prepare for! But Rose [Rosemary Myers] the director, is absolutely brilliant to work with and the crazier you are the better. It is the kind of show where you can’t be too big.”

In the final work, the Big Bad Wolf gets his chance to be revealed as the gentle, friendly, literature-loving individual he really is. This multi-layered work also ties in a coming-of-age story for the young ‘Wolfy’, who comes into conflict with his mother the Grand Wolf Master as a result of his less-than-conventional approach to wolf-hood. Kate reflects on the meaning of the show, saying, “The biggest thing that we hope kids will take from it is that you can’t judge people before you really know them. And also, that you have to follow your bliss; if you want to write poetry, write poetry. If you don’t want to be a big scary Wolf, you don’t have to be, no matter what people expect of you.’

The magical sets for this touring production are truly inviting and are certain to capture the imagination of the audience, with clever puppetry and colourful characters hidden within the carefully crafted forest setting. Credit must go to the talented Jonathon Oxlade for his stunning designs.

Having been warmly received by Adelaide audiences during the opening seasons, Big Bad Wolf is now enjoying similar success in Melbourne. Indeed the general consensus seems to be that the show is, ‘Wolftastic’.


L-R Patrick Graham, Kate Cheel, Emma J Hawkins Photo by Tony Lewis
L-R Patrick Graham, Kate Cheel, Emma J Hawkins
Photo by Tony Lewis

Big Bad Wolf promises to be an entertainment packed hour for adults and children alike, but the best bit is, the fun doesn’t stop there! As with all of Windmill’s productions, Big Bad Wolf includes crafting activities that are suitable for all ages and are a hit with the kids. The activities are themed to the show and give children an excellent opportunity to create their own handcrafted take-home souvenir. These workshops are free, but registration of interest is encouraged to assist with the provision of adequate materials.

Big Bad Wolf is playing at Southbank Theatre until January 25th and touring to Queensland for the Out Of The Box Festival in July.

For bookings and information, visit: http://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/mainstage-2014/big-bad-wolf/

Jan Chandler

Jan has been working freelance in the arts industry for some 15+ years in a variety of roles including: arts management; journalism (print, radio and online); publicity; and media relations. Passionate about the arts in all their variety, Jan has worked in film (production assistant; reviewer); dance (publicity; producer and presenter of 'Dance Dialogues - 3CR) and Board Member of Ausdance (Victoria)); performing arts (company manager, performer, reviewer, online editor). Jan had the honour of being the General Manager of Ilbijerri Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Theatre for some 18 months.

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