Produced by the Backbone Youth Arts theatre company, ‘Ivy Shambitt and the Sound Machine’ offered kids and their families an alternative form of school holiday entertainment when it debuted at Brisbane’s Metro Arts centre on Wednesday morning. With a cast of kids aged 9 to 12 - from the company’s Drama Blitz workshop program - the 50-minute play was nothing if not charming. Of course, without a child onstage to call my own, the sense of having been dragged along to a primary school talent show was more than a little difficult to shake off.
The story - courtesy of playwright Daniel Evans - involves the small town of Apronwood, ‘a town of tea parties, summer solstice dances and bake-offs.’ It’s Desperate Housewives by way of Tim Burton and Lemony Snicket in this little community, where women and their daughters dress in matching pastels and popularity is a never-ending cause for anxiety. When social outcast Pippa Van Hoozer is stricken with nits, she suffers the wrath of Apronwood’s pre-teen elite before being rescued by a mysterious girl with the bizarre name of - you guessed it - Ivy Shambitt. Unable to see or speak and armed with magical jars of sound that can make the townspeople’s dreams come true, Shambitt was thought to have been murdered many years before and her return threatens to unravel a decade-long mystery. Befriending the young Pippa, she follows her home and is swiftly adopted by the Van Hoozer family like a lost puppy. But all is not what it seems as the ensuing exploitation of Ivy Shambitt for financial gain and local prestige leads to a shocking end.
Hats off to Evans for his unique ability to work within the confines of children’s playwriting without ever coming across as patronising. However, while the script has plenty of laughs and never insults the intelligence of the mostly younger crowd, my one complaint would be the sheer mass of exposition and dialogue. With ten or so children shouting back-story from the moment the performance began, I found myself unable to keep up with the pace. Perhaps it’s the rapid, attention-deficit nature of the Nickelodeon generation. Perhaps I’m just getting old. Either way, missing a line here or there had me scrambling to catch up until the show was complete. Unfortunately, for what seemed like an otherwise solid and quirky story, I was forced to take solace in the actors’ performances and the kooky visual style.
In terms of performance, I guess it’s safe to say kids are relatively critic-proof. Their enthusiastic overacting was charming for the most part and - faced with such a verbose script - they all appeared to remember their lines wonderfully. The real standout performers were Aidan Perkins - providing an innocent gusto in his role as a narrator and the Beast, extracting many a laugh from the crowd - and Harriet Minto-Day, playing the adorably sweet Pippa Van Hoozer. The rest of the cast took to their roles with suitable fervour, most infusing their characters with delightful little quirks and filling the stage well.
In terms of style, the Burton-esque set - with its eerie greens, menacing silhouettes and cotton candy-coloured props - was simple but effective. The sound was choppy for much of the show but served its purpose when necessary and - in the closing scenes - the use of audience blindfolds added a curious dimension for a scene apparently too gruesome for young eyes.
Given that it’s a children’s show, aimed at and performed by kids, ‘Ivy Shambitt and the Sound Machine’ was a good piece of holiday fun. The humour was reminiscent of those old school days, the plot was an imaginative take on social hierarchies and the art of revenge and - finally - the fact children have opportunities like this to perform and have some fun is great. It may not be for everyone but it was definitely a fun, charming option for families wanting to avoid the movie, video game or other entertainment options on offer for the holidays.
IVY SHAMBITT and THE SOUND MACHINE
By Daniel Evans
Sue Benner Theatre, Metro Arts | 109 Edward Street, Brisbane
4 - 6 July
Wed-Thur, 11am, Fri, 11am & 6pm
Backbone Youth Arts (07) 3210 2666