18 November 2006
Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse
There has been more media coverage of Babes In the Wood over the last couple of weeks than most Malthouse productions receive for a season. Why? A song about Steve Irwin. It has been misquoted and taken out of context by every story I’ve read (including one on AussieTheatre).
Before September, Irwin was been a ripe target for satire, but now we have to be careful. (If you have just woken from a coma – Steve Irwin died in September). I’ve seen the great controversy. It’s a loving, kind, funny and totally respectful song about an iconic Aussie bloke who sings that we should all try doing the thing we love. He then dies doing what he loves, when three ridiculous stingrays come dancing in. If anything it is satirising the public response to Irwin’s death – who didn’t find themselves saying, “At least he was doing what he loved.” The only person who should be offended is Germaine Greer. Her character is the one singing all the misquoted lines.
There we go – another 170 words devoted to one of the best publicity calls made by a theatre company. I’m sure many tickets will be bought just to see this scene. It’s a good reason to go - it’s funny, respectful and relevant. In fact, it stands out as one of the better moments of Babes In The Wood.
If you saw the 2003 production of Babes In The Wood, don’t expect Babes 2 (in the city). This is the same production, with some new material. I missed the original, so cannot compare the two.
It is good old-fashioned pantomime, created intelligently. The opening scenes are enticing and captivating. It is great to openly laugh and enjoy “serious” theatre. How many other mediums allow you to boo at a John Howard joke and scream back “Oh no he isn’t” when the panto dame declares he’s a bold and visionary prime minister.
Sadly the show loses momentum and never recaptures the opening energy (except for the Steve Irwin number). A lot of material would read well in the script, but slows the show down on the stage. I know its hard to cut your good lines, but some people didn’t come back after interval. Much of the material is still relevant, but has lost the impact and power that it had in 2003. Tamper/children overboard, un-Australian, war on terror - is this political comment for 2006?
There is new material, but it seems to have been forced into the old script. The Rumsfeld “known and unknowns” joke was most welcome, "Under the Milky Way" at least referenced the Commonwealth Games and, if you look carefully, you may notice a reference to Steve Irwin.
The original music is terrific and supported by an eclectic and illogical soundtrack of 70s and 80s pop hits. The tradition of panto is to use contemporary music, but these retro moments are not contemporary. If it is a commentary on society today, why not use the music of the starettes that fill our media as much as any politician? Kylie’s return, aging rockers on the Countdown tour, wealthy singers trying to make poverty history, Australian Idol and Brittany are all too easy targets. (Amanda Vandstone singing, “Opps I did it again” instead of Nutbush?) Agadoo is funny – but what is its relevance?
What does sustain the production is the terrific cast. Caroline Craig, Diana Emry, Julie Forsyth, Max Gilles, Francis Greenslade, Eddie Perfect and Lucy Taylor. Each one as perfect as Eddie, having a ball on the stage and making sure the audience also enjoy the absurdity and silliness of the panto.
Babes In The Wood is a fun and irreverent night out, but is not the seditious political satire that I expected.
This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.