Some of the best, most enchanting and memorable theatre I’ve seen has been for kids. That might say something about me. The theatre I’ve seen. Or both.
The Festival of Sydney has jumped on the junior bandwagon with Snow On Mars, at Seymour. The possibility of vibrant life on other planets must seem particularly appealing for many youth stuck in rural New South Wales. Like 12-year-old Waylon; played by Rick Everett, who manages to act Waylon’s age, rather than his own. And if Waylon has his head in the clouds, and stars in his eyes, so does his equally obsessed dad, a would-be country singer-songwriter of repute (Elliott Weston). Elliott might have eyes for Kasey Chambers, but he can’t see his son and, ironically, chides him for his astronautical antics. But nothing will dissuade Waylon from his dream. He even writes to Aussie astroboy Andy Thomas. Sensing Waylon’s need for affirmation not forthcoming from his preoccupied father, grandma determines to pose as Thomas, replying to Waylon’s emails and offering every encouragement.
Waylon’s dad has them moving from town to town and school to school, staying in caravan parks. Happily Waylon’s paternal grandma (a brilliant Deborah Kennedy) is along for the ride. She’s a voice of reason that fills some of the void left by Waylon’s mum, who died. All this is prefaced, as the audience assembles, by a silver-suited, model spaceman, who smiles, acknowledges young admirers in the crowd, wags his finger at latecomers and performs the odd backflip.
Richard Tulloch and Kim Carpenter are to be congratulated for reflecting a good deal of reality in the characters, albeit with a judicious amount of showbiz licence. Having said that, for most people, I should think, a certain amount of implausibility will prevail. After all, for mere mortals, trapped in boring, garden-variety occupations, the idea of travelling the wide-open spaces of our countryside, like the Kirkpatrick or Chambers families, or Fred Brophy and his boxing tent, will seem as hopelessly romantic and remote as walking in outer space. Even the name Waylon is a little out there.
The theme of following one’s dream is strong and, of course, always valid, if not new. I bought it, anyway. A surprise video appearance by Tom Burlinson, as Andy, was a treat.
The rest is down to aerial feats, acrobatics (there’s a lot of it about, at present), choreography, backdrops and “oh, wow!” video effects, all of which are executed brilliantly. And director Gale Edwards has made the most of everything and everyone at her disposal.
While Snow On Mars isn’t The Wizard of Oz, it’s engaging, magical, well-played and accessible. And none too tedious for the big kids, either.
The details: Snow On Mars plays the York Theatre, Seymour Centre, as part of the Sydney Festival until January 16. Tickets for that show and information on dozens of other theatre pieces and events can be found on the Sydney Festival website.