I still feel a sense of wonder and excitement when I walk into any theatre. The dark, the quiet, the anticipation, the atmosphere, I don’t think that changes from child to adult.
I would have liked to have stepped into my little boys mind today when he experience the theatre for the first time. Queuing up with the preschool and kindergarten kids at the NIDA theatre for a production of Too Many Elephants in This House, I could visably see him change. He is normally a busy two year old constantly on the move but he was quiet, thoughtful, even patient as he lined up. I could almost see the intrigue working in his brain. What is this place? What is going to happen?
We took our seats and he lost his sense of wonder and contemplation a bit and slipped back into two year old mode when he found that the seats flipped up and down. But he sat for almost the entire 55 minute performance – only about 5-10 minutes to the end did he get up and start skulking around the empty seats.
The play is an adaptation of the book by Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by Andrew Joyner. It says suitable from 2+ but is really aimed at kids Years K – 6. Specifically designed to engage young people with humour and mystery, this is the first time the book has come alive on stage.
The story is about a 7 year old boy named Eric who’s collection of beloved elephants is getting on his mums nerves because they take up a lot of space. There are just too many elephants – in the living room, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, even in his bedroom! She proclaims he has to make it an elephant free house. So the journey of self discovery and magic begins as Eric learns to combat his fear of the dark; find his sense of belonging comes up with a clever solution to a very BIG problem…
I expect the theme of the play encouraging creative problem solving is a bit lost on the today’s audience but I imagine the one o’clock showing has some older children. The The children today are happy just watching and giggling. There are lots of opportunities to make preschool and kindergarten children laugh: oversized elephant “listening ears”, mum tripping over the vacuum cleaner which has been dressed as a elephant and an elephant hiding in a fridge brings about a pantomimesque “he’s behing you” chorus from the giggling crowd of youngsters!
The sets are simple but effective helping to playfully explore the concepts of size, space and perspective. The lighting works to capture that sense of theatre without it being too dark and the costumes of grey overalls and woolly jumpers as trunks and stick on ears make some great playschool elephants.
The actors, graduates of NIDA are a bit am-dram for my liking but putting myself in the mind of a child, they do a good job with a heckling audience. The character of Eric and the large elephant are particularly engaging and have a good dynamic, playing for giggles. The actors and Kellie Mackereth who adapted the book for the stage stay on for a brief Q and A which is a delight to listen too. The kids ask a range of cute questions, all answered well and with good humour.
I don’t know the book but by pure coincidence when I picked up my four year old from preschool they had read it that day as part of library week so we could chat about it on the walk home.
I think it’s a shame it’s only on for a short period of time. So, if you read this and get a chance to go before Saturday, it’s a nice way to spend an hour in the luxury of a theatre while your kids are engaged and giggling.
Based on the book by Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by Andrew Joyner
Published by Penguin Books
Presented by the National Institute of Dramatic Art
Adapted for the stage by Kellie Mackereth