The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy, Slingsby’s inaugural show, is about a boy losing his parents and home and venturing into a new life. A serious topic you may think, especially considering Slingsby’s work is directed toward audiences 10 years and older. The potentially heavy content doesn’t seem to daunt the young punters as they excitedly gather in the foyer with parents, grandparents and some with younger siblings tagging along.
It is Slingsby’s opening show for the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Summer Family Fun program and already the season is sold out. One small family waits expectantly, hoping to buy last minute tickets. Others scrutinize show illustrations by Andy Ellis. Good news does greet the waiting family and their boy bursts into a joyful foyer dance chanting, “We’re in, we’re in.”
The doors open and the crowd is directed into a dark space towards a tent with a warm glow. On reaching the tent the audience steps into another world. A top hatted gentleman, identified on the foyer wall as Humphrey (Sam McMahon), seats the younger audience members close to the stage on mats and low seating, while older audience members are seated at the back. The tent fills up and one young girl directs her neighbour to move along to make space but he stays firmly in his chosen section of mat concerned he “won’t be able to see.”
As the show begins, Humphrey tidies the storyteller Bethell Slingsby which involves some amusing physical tête-à-tête with a napkin and cleaning cloth. Slingsby warmly welcomes the audience and prepares them for the happiness and the sadness they are about to behold. So begins the adventures of Cheeseboy, who becomes an orphan when his cheese planet, hit by a fire ball, is reduced to fondue. This is just the start of his adventure as he encounters new places and people and learns to negotiate life on his own. Stephen Sheehan plays Slingsby and also slips into the roles of Cheeseboy, a couple of gypsies and the moon. He gives an enthralling performance and engages individual audience members in his story telling, singing, crazy gypsy celebrations and short bouts of rage as a frustrated young Cheeseboy.
Besides the acting there is a conglomerate of theatrical elements used to tell the tale including light, projection, film, miniature and mechanical worlds, still image and sound. The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy holds these elements together, a credit to the collaboration between invited artists and Slingsby’s core creative team Andy Packer (director), Finegan Kruckemeyer (playwright), Geoff Cobham (lighting designer and design consultant) and Quentin Grant (composer). It’s a serious story elegantly told by Kruckemeyer who handles the content lightly and in a way that appeals to young audiences. Matching the story’s poetry and structure is the theatrical trickery used for beautiful illusion while the mechanics are on full view amid the seated crowd. The result is a clever weave of theatre technology into a story that engages at many levels. The simple transference of the moon from the tent wall, high above everyone’s heads, to Slingsby’s napkin within arms-reach of the front row was thoroughly approved of by one audience member stating “that’s cool.” As a whole the show is artistically and technically beautiful theatre which does also include excellent sightlines wherever you sit - even if you are an experienced little theatre goer sitting on the floor.
It is wonderful to see a young viewer’s imagination charmed yet still empowered, letting them lean over to their significant adult to say “it’s a magnet” as one boy did while intently watching a paper boat float down a vertical ocean. The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy is live performance that results in a wonderful sharing of the magic as well as giving a view in on how storytelling and theatre can be made. It is, to quote one young audience member’s written comment after the show, “... magic lane!”
Adelaide Festival Centre’s Summer Family Fun program presents
The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy
Venue: A Magical Tent within the Space Theatre
When: 21 - 25 January 2008, 2pm daily from 21 – 25; 11am daily from 22-25
Cost: All tickets $12
Suitable children 9+ and their families
Bookings: BASS on 131 246 or online at www.bass.net.au