WEDNESDAY, MARCH 03, 2010Pobby and Dingan, theatre review
Published in Northings
Pobby and Dingan
Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, 27 February 2010, and touring)
IT TAKES a while to warm to this adaptation of Ben Rice's novel. For one thing, there doesn't seem to be much at stake: just an everyday family hoping to get lucky in Lighting Ridge, an opal mining town in the Australian outback. For another, the production by Catherine Wheels takes a straight-forward approach that rules out the kind of imaginative leaps that children's theatre does best. The initial impression of Gill Robertson's staging is of a routine domestic drama.
All the same, you sense something is going on. Apart from the father (Damien Warren-Smith) with his Elvis fixation and conviction that untold wealth is just a day away, and apart from the mother (Ros Sydney) trying to keep order in a household with little money and a broken washing machine, and apart from Ashmol (Scott Turnbull), their son, zipping round town on his bike, there is the question of daughter Kellyanne (Ashley Smith).
Although the least vocal of the four, she is the most intriguing, because everywhere she goes she is accompanied by her two imaginary friends, Pobby and Dingan.
On the stage, Kellyanne's belief in the reality of these two characters is no less preposterous than our belief in the invisible food the mother puts on the table or the motionless journey Ashmol takes on his bike. One of the most touching aspects of Rice's tale, adapted by Rob Evans, is the willingness of the whole town to indulge in the little girl's fantasy. It is as if they recognise that her imagination offers an escape from the hard-bitten reality of their mining town that is so persuasively evoked by the play's incidental details.
But Pobby and Dingan goes further than that. Contrary to expectations, there is an awful lot at stake. This is a play about nothing less than childhood illness and death. It is about the way we can use the imagination not only to make sense of the world, as all children do, but also to come to terms with life's greatest traumas.
We take the play at face value when it treats the mysterious disappearance of Pobby and Dingan as a surreal and whimsical comedy, but all the while it is preparing us for us for the weightier events ahead.
Along the way it demonstrates the importance of community, ritual and shared belief as the townsfolk put aside their petty antagonisms and stand together in recognition of what is truly important. From its innocuous beginnings, Pobby and Dingan matures into a profoundly moving play, low on sentiment and high on good humour, that will leave you sobbing for the loss of more than just your invisible friends.
Pobby and Dingan is at The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, on 20 March, and Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, on 22-23 March 2010.
Over at the Traverse this week, meanwhile, the much-admired Catherine Wheels company – one of Scotland's top theatre groups for children – are continuing their current tour of Pobby and Dingan, a new stage version by Rob Evans of the award-winning children's story by Australian-based writer Ben Rice. Set in the remote outback mining town of Lightning Ridge, this 80-minute show tells the story of young Ashmol Williamson, his sister Kellyanne, and her two imaginary friends, Pobby and Dingan, who go missing one day, causing Kellyanne to take to her bed with what seems like a broken heart.
Pobby and Dingan is a strange story, which resolutely refuses to follow a classic sentimental pattern. Ashmol's quest is successful, yet he loses his prize; everyone in town behaves as if Pobby and Dingan are real, yet only a few believe in the right kind of way. Yet what emerges from Gill Robertson's beautiful production – which marshals music (by David Paul Jones), puppetry, and all the visual resources of theatre, to evoke the physical and social landscape of Lightning Ridge, and to tell this complex story, with a cast of just four – is a really moving meditation on the power of imagination to conjure what is not conventionally real, and to recreate what has gone.
There's some fine acting here, from Scott Turnbull, Ashley Smith, Damien Warren-Smith and Ros Sydney. If the show's concerns are perhaps a shade too deep for younger children, it's a richly fulfilling experience for everyone over seven or eight, and for adult audiences, too.
Pobby & Dingan is a modern-day fable about the loss of childhood and the recognition of what matters most. Catherine Wheels take this tale and add layers of poignant magic and emotion in a wonderfully staged performance that resonates with children and adults alike. Indeed, one of its most impressive feats was keeping the mostly youthful audience at the Traverse in spellbound silence throughout, as they were transported to Lightning Ridge and the potential of the power of imagination and hope.
full review here
Pobby and Dingan, Brunton Theatre, MusselburghMary Brennan
Published on 1 Mar 2010
The sharp intake of breath at the end was from the little girl.
Her mum, like many of the adults in the audience, was blinking back tears. Surely, after everything young Ashmol had done for his kid sister – and frankly the requests concerning her imaginary friends had been increasingly fantastical and downright embarrassing for Ashmol – she would get better... wouldn’t she?
But there’s a gritty, uncompromising edge to Pobby and Dingan that refuses to sugar-coat the gut-wrenching moment when a 12-year-old Aussie boy leaves his childhood behind – loses gung-ho naiveté, perhaps, but acquires something truly enriching: an understanding that hope, love, family bonds, and the kindness of strangers are more valuable than the opals mined in Lightning Ridge.
It’s quite a learning curve for Ashmol. And for the 8+ age group that this vividly staged, astutely-nuanced Catherine Wheels production – directed by Gill Robertson, designed by Karen Tennant, soundscore by David Paul Jones – has in its sights. But as Ashmol himself says at the start, his story is a good one, and Rob Evans’s adaptation of the original book (by Ben Rice) has a feisty energy that honours that claim.
Scott Turnbull’s adolescent Ashmol has a rough and tumble charm, a forthright honesty, that swiftly draws you into the family turmoils that, unlike Pobby and Dingan, are all too real.
The rest of the cast – Ashley Smith, Ros Sydney and Damien Warren-Smith – ensure that Lightning Ridge’s collection of opal-dreaming oddballs spark Ashmol’s adventure with dashes of daft humour, scary hostility and ultimately an uplifting spirit of community in times of loss and heartbreak.
A real beaut, in anyone’s lingo.
Star rating: ****