Antarctica the musical has some very important, relevant information to convey to audiences. It tries to find a place within the genre to get the messages across while being essentially entertaining, and without being too dry or “preachy”.
The photos and videos of Antarctica are captivating – beautiful in their vast purity. I can see why the creative team wanted us to feel like we were there. “If a place was in people’s hearts, they would care for it even if they never got to visit” – Dana Bergstrom, writer.
The stark, raw beauty of the continent was reflected in the white box set to the point that there was nothing really to look at, scenic, internal rooms, or otherwise. Set pieces, such as the boat and the snow vehicles were clever and cute but merely suggestions of reality. I wonder if some projections may have been a useful tool to draw us further into the scenes.
The writer, Dana Bergstrom is an Antarctic scientist who has published many scientific papers, but the book of this musical is her first literary work. Music and Lyrics were written by Bergstrom’s partner, Dugland McLaren, also making his debut in the musical theatre scene.
McLaren used his background in design and trade as the chief puppet designer and maker, bringing the most endearing characters on the stage to life. The audience was definitely on side with the pair of penguins, operated by Bryony Geeves and Melissa King. Their little feet slapped the stage each time the wheels turned. They were perhaps a bit small to be read with full impact in Hobart’s Theatre Royal, but I guess if they’d been made any larger they would have been almost comical in scale to the cast. My personal favourite was the elephant seal, whose every move was accompanied by some deep lazy strings from the band.
The largely stereotypical characters embodied the necessary opposing viewpoints on climate change. Moose (Brenton Cosier) was the bogan climate change denier who somehow managed to shack up with his polar opposite, Skye “the vegan” (Danielle O’Malley). The central romance though, was between scientist Birdie (Imogen Moore) and doctor Doug (Bobby Fox). During their year together in Antarctica, they met, flirted, planned a family and had a heated argument about global warming that may have seen the demise of their relationship if it weren’t for a near death experience.
The final number, after the curtain call was great and I found myself wishing they’d all been so engaging, especially the opening. We were eased very gently into the show by Elizabeth (Genevieve Lemon) in a narrative role. After laying down some exposition she introduced character information for the rest of the cast while they helped out with a few quirks and behavioural cues.
By the end of the show I feel like I had gotten to know the mechanic Jim (John Xintavelonis) and Elizabeth. They had some conversations which let us into their worlds, their relationships at home and what they had left behind. It is unfortunate that I didn’t feel as much empathy for Spike (Vincent Cooper), although his camp enthusiasm was a source of entertainment, or Doug and Edward (Jeff Michel), because those are the three characters who found themselves in peril.
Despite the limitations of their characters, the cast were committed and threw themselves into their portrayals. Musically, they were all very strong singers and the harmonies were tight. The band, under the musical direction of Craig Wood, was lovely, although the mix was a little guitar heavy in the beginning. I expect that will improve over the course of the run.
Despite already being ten years in the making, Director Terence O’Connell makes mention in his notes of the fact that Antarctica will continue to be revised as it moves closer to its potential. I am inclined to agree and one avenue it may find it creates the greatest impact is in educational theatre.
Tasmanian Theatre Company & Sundog Productions present
Antarctica – A New Musical
music and lyrics Dugald McLaren | book Dana Michelle Bergstrom
Director Terence O’Connell
Venue: Theatre Royal Hobart
Dates: 29 Oct – 12 Nov 2016
Tickets: $40 – $85