Reviewing children’s theatre is a whole different ball game compared to its adult counterpart. Grown-ups want sophistication, subtlety and wit. Children want bright colours, talking animals and maybe a sing-along.
This play certainly has all of those. Songs of the Sea is a series of four myths about the creation of sea life, loosely tied around the story of four friends who, on a trip to the beach, find a conch shell in a rock pool that tells the stories to them. Each sequence, narrated by a different member of the group, incorporates a song, Maori words for many of the nouns and concepts being introduced and comically anthropomorphized puppets, à la The Muppet Show – think a flirtatious fish with long lashes and juju lips or a red-cheeked moon sobbing literal waves of tears into the ocean. There is an interactive element to each as well, with the audience being encouraged to clap in time, sing along, or imitate the sounds on stage. This works effectively as a tool for holding children’s attention.
The puppets are manipulated, and the human characters played, by a host of young Wellington actors, all of them trying to walk the fine line between being consistently vivacious enough to entertain their younger audience members for 45 minutes and not over-acting to the point where they grate on the adults. This is achieved to varying effect. Julian Wilson is particularly impressive, seeming genuinely to engage with the under-6s but bringing in a healthy dose of humour to please the adult contingent. Wilson’s melodrama is reserved for his puppetry, where it works perfectly. “How beautiful my reflection looks as a fish!” the sun cries under his direction. “Gorgeous, I’m stunning!” None of the other actors’ understanding of their young audience seems quite as natural. Lyndee-Jane Rutherford is at the other end of the spectrum – she is over-enthusiastic and over-loud.
Songs of the Sea is definitely a children’s play. There is none of the adult-aimed double entendre or jokes (buried in the script but cleverly designed to go over children’s heads and amuse adults) that we see in Pixar films. However, the entertainment value is high for children (if kid’s shows are best judged by their mostly-silent-to-several-screaming-children ratio, this one does well) and that should be enough to encourage caregivers to bring their charges along to this vibrant, energetic play.
Written and directed by Peter Wilson
Capital E! till April 24 and return season September 18 – October 23