‘Outback Adventures’ was edu-taining.
With the summer school holidays nearly upon us, now is the perfect time to introduce younger generations to the magic of live theatre. For those wanting to do this but also would like to enjoy the warmer weather, the Melbourne Shakespeare Company has the perfect solution – family-friendly outdoor live theatre.
Founded by Jennifer Sarah Dean in 2016, Melbourne Shakespeare Company aspires to bring inclusivity and quality to their productions. While the company is best known for their performances of the eponymous bard’s works, they are also renowned for their efforts in children’s theatre. Many of their productions take place in outdoor settings, allowing for a charming marriage of art and nature. The first show of the school holiday season is no different.
Set amongst the picturesque tranquillity of St Kilda’s Botanical Gardens, ‘Outback Adventures’ is sure to elicit a smile from even the toughest preschool critic. Taking inspiration from such beloved children’s media as ‘Play School’ and The Wiggles, Melbourne Shakespeare Company uses edutainment (educational entertainment) to engage their young audience. ‘Outback Adventures’ tells the story of Wacky Wombat, who by inadvertently falling into the back of a garbage truck, travels around Australia and learns ecological lessons along the way. Through imbuing the show with numerous comedic and musical moments, Melbourne Shakespeare Company ensure their message is not only received by its audience, but enjoyed also.
With recycling and environmental responsibility being the main themes of the show, it is unsurprising that this is carried through to its costume and set design. Claudia Bernardini’s set design is fun and simplistic with many items being made out of staples of arts and crafts – cardboard, blocks and fabric. The biggest showpiece, the cardboard garbage truck, is also its most successful. The simple nature of the show’s recyclable props perfectly plays into the world of children’s entertainment. Bernardini’s set is aided by Stage Manager Bethany Griffiths’ layout which highlights both the show’s recycled props as well as the Botanical Gardens’ natural beauty. Not only does it invite children to use their imagination during the show, it also invites them to create their own sets to use in their own green spaces at home afterwards.
Similar can be said of Aislinn Naughton’s costume design. From a skirt made of ties, an oversized pair of overalls, and a makeshift sock puppet, the costuming of ‘Outback Adventures’ draws parallels to a child’s dress up box. Naughton’s fashion ideas are charmingly quaint. They again reiterate the show’s message of reusing items for multiple purposes. While some costumes work better than others, the overall aesthetic is fitting (no pun intended).
‘Outback Adventures’, as is often the case for children’s theatre shows, is a musical at its heart. The hour-long show includes approximately six songs which are spread evenly enough to keep children entertained while also not overloading adults. Musical Director Anthony Craig and Writer Emma Austin’s united song writing is humorously catchy. Each song invited audiences to participate in some way, whether it be clapping their hands, calling and echoing, or just dancing like a ‘wacky wombat’. It can be difficult to write songs that are able to garner enjoyment from both children and adults, yet Craig and Austin do just that. The joyous melodies they craft are sure to get both young and young at heart up and dancing. Particular shout out must go to the effervescently catchy The Rubbish Collector’s theme song and the funk-R&B inspired ‘Put it in the Bin’ which are undoubtedly going to get stuck in audience members heads for days.
Director Bridget Sweeney demonstrates an apt knowledge of children’s theatre production. With a keen eye for juxtaposing fun with learning, Sweeney ensures ‘Outback Adventures’ is worthwhile on both fronts. Supported by Jennifer Sarah Dean (Artistic Director), Alannah Woods (Production Manager), and Michael Mack (Producer), Sweeney successfully crafts a show that is engaging and informative for all audiences. By sprinkling in a few adult-orientated pop culture references throughout, the production team ensure parents are included in on the fun.
A tight-knit five piece cast round out the production of ‘Outback Adventures’. Isabelle Davis takes on lead duties as Wacky Wombat. Davis’ charm and earnestness is endearing, quickly garnering a legion of supporters from her pint-sized audience. Shanu Sobti’s Penny the Penguin instils a very welcomed touch of sassiness to the show. Bandicoot, performed by Naomi Leigh, is playfully sweet. Ethan Rutledge as the Rubbish Collector deservedly garners many of the laughs in ‘Outback Adventures’, with comedic timing sure to impress audiences of all ages. Joey Phyland’s humorous performance of Cassie the Cassowary is the arguable standout, however, with both his musical and theatrical chops sure to tickle some funny bones. Each member of the cast has their own moment to shine, but it is their interplay together that makes the show such as success.
As the final school bell for the year is preparing to toll, Melbourne Shakespeare Company is introduce young audiences to the magic of live theatre. With a family-friendly atmosphere and edutainment at its heart, ‘Outback Adventures’ is a great show for audiences young and old. So come for the theatre, stay for the lesson, and leave with a song. ‘Outback Adventures’ is one journey the whole family can enjoy these school holidays.
‘Outback Adventures’ performs until Saturday, 23 December 2023 at the St Kilda Botanical Gardens. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit the Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s website.