REM Theatre Company's 2002 tour of The Kookaburra Who Stole the Moon comes to Canberra for schools performancesat 10am and 11.45am on August 29 and 30, 2002. There will be one public performance at The Playhouse on Saturday August 31 at 11.45am. Book at Canberra Theatre on 6257 1077.
If you were to imagine the musical sound of a wombat, you would quite likely agree with the popular choice in REM Theatre's The Kookaburra Who Stole the Moon. The tuba really has no competition. But you might be a bit surprised to find the emu played on the 'cello and conga drums. There you go, though - that's what a creative presentation of the orchestra for young people can do. Give you lots of laughter and surprises.
The story of the kookaburra's laugh is quite simple. If you fell in love with the moon, and you were a kookaburra, you'd gobble it down like all those other tasty morsels you love - like lizards and snakes - wouldn't you? But what about all those dark and scary nights without the moon? How would you get the moon back out of the kookaburra in the proper way? You can't chop him open because you shouldn't do such violent things to others. And if you're simply pragmatic, you'll soon see that if you did you might hurt the moon, and you'd end up with no kookaburra. But if you make him laugh, and laugh, and laugh so much that the moon can escape from his wide open beak, everyone can be happy. And that's why the kookaburras laugh every evening just at sundown.
Making the kookaburra laugh is sure to keep the audience of youngsters rolling in the aisles, according to Catherine Pease, a founding member of REM Theatre and the narrator for this show. She should know after more than 10 years touring all over Australia, Britain, Europe, USA, the South Pacific and Asia, where the Artistic Director, Roger Rynd, has a special association with the Seoul Arts Center in Korea. Audiences there have given Rynd awards for best play, while a reviewer in The Scotsman on the opposite side of the globe wrote "Rarely have I seen so many people so thoroughly and happily engrossed".
That reviewer surely wasn't talking only about the children, anywhere between 3 and 12, that the show is mainly for. People of all ages can respond directly to music and dance which tells such a story - and take part with the children in recognising the instruments of the orchestra as each animal's theme appears. It has to be fun, too, when the children are taught each animal's movements by Gamillaroi artists Tanya and Eric Ellis. Eric plays the kookaburra; Tanya plays all the others. And when the children do the movements, the whole orchestra stands to do the movements too.
This is getting to sound a bit like going to a Rocky Horror Show, or The Sound of Music, and Catherine admits that things get a bit chaotic at times. This writer, when he was that young, was excited enough by Peter and the Wolf.
In fact, that classic musical tale was the origin of The Kookaburra Who Stole the Moon. As Peter and the Wolf was a Russian folk tale, so The Kookaburra is an Australian approach to ancient myths. Peter Winkler - who directed the music for the opening of the Paralympics and has a long history as a music educator (he co-founded the Bondi Youth Wave annual rock music school) - wrote both the script and the music for The Kookaburra, combining an Aboriginal myth with ideas from Aesop's tales. Rather like the development of world music, this show combines elements from many cultures, and REM's productions have seen Tanya Ellis become the first Koori to perform in Korean language, while she has also maintained her traditional dance forms as well as working as a puppeteer with Plasticienne Volants in Europe.
What may seem superficially to be a simple children's educational show has behind it a complex system of support. Each venue - in our case the Canberra Theatre Centre - provides the orchestra: the Canberra Symphony here, the Tasmanian Symphony a few weeks ago, the Frankston Symphony in Victoria last week. The commitment of people all over the country and the world has been so effective that Playing Australia, the Australia Council's funding body for touring companies, has taken a major role in supporting The Kookaburra.
There are also technical issues to be solved. The two didgeridoos in the orchestra are very special: one tuned in the key of D and the other in B flat. When the show began back in 1990, didge players had to be sent back to the drawing boards when their sounds were not quite in harmony with the classical orchestral instruments. Maybe it's this kind of reconciliation that this show represents. The music is onomatopaeic, but creating sounds not merely like the sounds each animal makes, but giving the feeling associated with each animal's character. The cross-cultural effect is also embedded in the music, where you will notice subtle touches of different popular dance forms as well as the Australian indigenous forms.
In other words, there is more education in this show than at first meets the ear and eye, for adults as well as for children. At the same time, the basic rule of theatre - always entertain - is the core of the show in performance. When the Producer is Marguerite Pepper, who has produced major cultural events since the 1980s (including being Associate Producer of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Paralympics); the Music Director is Peter Winkler, winner of the Federal Government's Roz Bower Award for his contribution to Australia's community music scene; the Narrator, Catherine Pease, has been Director Community Programs for the Queensland Performing Arts Trust; the key performers Eric and Tanya Ellis come with the full respect they deserve from the indigenous community; and when the orchestra is the Canberra Symphony - what more needs to be said about the professional credentials of The Kookaburra Who Stole the Moon.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
Return to Frank McKone'sHome Page