The Ghost's Child
by Sonya Hartnett
Adaptation created by Sally Richardson
World Premiere MANDURAH PERFORMING ARTS CENTRE, 27 September 2012
Director: Sally Richardson
With: Nicola Bartlett, Kynan Hughes, Melanie Robinson, Katya Shetshov and Oliver Wenn
Composer/performer: Melanie Robinson
Production Designer: Matt McVeigh
Lighting Design: Jenny Vila
Dramaturgy: Humphrey Bower (supported by StagesWA)
Puppetry Consultant: Michael Barlow
Producer: Fiona de Garis (Performing Lines WA)
Produced by Mandurah Performing Arts Centre and Performing Lines WA
...The Ghost's Child could become a proud classic in the repertoire of any theatre company, for young or old...a gem of a show for which the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre and Performing Lines WA deserve accolades for putting on stage. To be parochial for a moment, this is largely Western Australian talent at its very best, a production that - on very limited resources - conjures up a magical live theatre experience every bit as good as Raoul...
There are rare times when you see a show that is so inventive, so surefooted that you marvel at its artistry. For me, The Arrival by Oscar-winning illustrator Sean Tan became one such memorable instance when his book was converted into a magical spectacle by Spare Parts Puppet Theatre; the solo show Raoul, by visiting French acrobat, clown and magician James Thierree last year was another.
And then there's The Ghost's Child, a gem of a show for which the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre and Performing Lines WA deserve accolades for putting on stage. To be parochial for a moment, this is largely Western Australian talent at its very best, a production that - on very limited resources - conjures up a magical live theatre experience every bit as good as Raoul.
We meet Matilda, a 75-year-old woman who is visited by a mysterious young man. He wants to know about her life, her enduring love for Feather, a free-spirited dancing man, and what happened to both of them. A youthful 'Maddy' relives those life events, twirling around the emotional vortex of parental disapproval, plunging into a love affair and coming up for air when it doesn't take a predictable course. Eventually, the mysterious young man reveals his identity and his purpose in Matilda's ebbing life.
Director/adaptor Sally Richardson says when she read Sonia Hartnett's book The Ghost's Child, she "could see pictures in music, in the body, in the theatrical space." So she got permission to adapt the book, and began the arduous three-year task of assembling resources to stage the play.
Richardson has worked with dancers for years, and imbues her shows (like The Drovers Wives, for the Perth Festival) with wonderful physical expressiveness. Her choice of actors in this show guarantees it - as Maddy, Katya Shevtsov has a sturdy, stubborn quality that fits a headstrong daughter trying to find her way, but Shevtsov's dance background is also evident in a superb pas de deux with Feather, a mime-dance role played with great delicacy by Kynan Hughes.
The other actors Nicola Bartlett and Oliver Wenn, as Matilda and her boy visitor, ably double up as manipulators of everyday objects that come to life.
The simplicity of the staging is refreshing; as Sally Richardson says, "nothing appears on stage that might not be from the coastal world of Mandurah, your own attic, suitcase and mantelpiece collection of treasures and loved objects."
What matters is what the performers do with them - seashells become butterflies, suitcases open and take flight or launch on the waves, pastry bowls and wooden spoons are transformed into musical instruments.
Most notable about this show is the cohering influence of a superb musical score, composed and played on stage by cellist and singer Melanie Robinson. Her voice has 'shiver up your spine' qualities, and her cello artistry provides delicate aural effects throughout the show.
Richardson has achieved a perfect synthesis of fairy story, allegory and children's picture book, overlain with a strong emotional narrative that every mature adult will recognise - how love and loss are painful but always worth experiencing.
Independent works like this are labours of love that, in this state, have to work hard to find resources and audiences. The Ghost's Child could become a proud classic in the repertoire of any theatre company, for young or old.
(Vickie Laurie: ABC online/The Australian)