Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Theatre in the Time of Covid: ALPHABETICAL SYDNEY: ALL ABOARD!

 HILARY SAYS: It's been all thrills and spills rehearsing 'Alphabetical Sydney: All Aboard!', a musical that opens tomorrow (March 30) at Parramatta Riverside.

'Angels in America'? No. Nat Jobe as Ibis in a shopping trolley full of rubbish.

First, the show. Inspired by the picture book 'Alphabetical Sydney', which I created with illustrator Antonia Pesenti in 2013, the stage show is an extension rather than an adaptation. The book is non-narrative, a form which doesn't lend itself easily to children's theatre. So we took two of the characters who appear once in the book, and made them the protagonists. The 'swimming Nanna' from the Ocean Pool page worships neatness and organisation (think mown verges and spare cardigans) and the Ibis stands for all that is unpredictable, filthy and fabulous. Order vs Chaos: the quintessential conflict between parents and children everywhere. 

Garbage bin puppets, Ibis' back-up vocalists.

In brainstorming ways of how the book might make the leap to the stage, Antonia and I worked closely with Greta Gertler Gold, the composer with whom I wrote 'The Red Tree' and am now collaborating with on a musical adaptation of 'Picnic at Hanging Rock'.  Working with Critical Stages Touring as co-producers over the past year, through a creative development (with Justine Clarke, Luke Escombe, Salina Myat and Zara Stanton) and generous grants from the City of Sydney and RISE, all was coming together nicely. 

We assembled a crack team of artists: director Liesel Badorrek, musical director Maria Alfonsine, designer Isla Shaw working together with Antonia, Alice Osborne as puppetry director, Mic Gruchy on projections, Ben Brockman on lights, Ross Johnston on sound design. Jaw-dropping puppets by Erth. And the cast! Nat Jobe, Deborah Galanos and Rebecca Rolle, with Maria doing a lot more than playing the piano. Greta's music sparkles. Book and lyrics I can feel proud of.

Alice Osborne demonstrates a flock of seagulls diving for chips.

Three weeks seemed like plenty of time to rehearse - until on Day 2 our director came down with Covid. Which meant she would be directing via Zoom for the first week. Fine. Then on Day 3, our Nanna tested positive, so she was out of the room. The week ended with Ibis feeling fluey and waiting on his PCR results - and at home. In 37 years of putting on plays, I never imagined being in a near-empty rehearsal room with the director and both actors on a screen. Singing was impossible due to the time-lag. We tried some choreography, with Liesel dancing in her kitchen, spinning past the fridge with her dog barking at her heels. 

In the final week, we made sure we had an understudy for Nat (Gabriel Fancourt) and worked at a fever pitch to make up for lost time. Tomorrow we have our first audience. It will also be the first time the cast performs on the Riverside stage. The excitement of live theatre! And while we visit Hornsby Heights (H) , Taronga Zoo (Z) and stop for yum cha on Parramatta Road (Y, P), we don't need Luna Park (L) - it's been enough of a rollercoaster ride.

For more info, and to book tickets, click here.

Alphabetical Sydney: All Aboard! was developed with the support of the City of Sydney, the NSW government through Create NSW, Parramatta City and Riverside Theatres. This production is supported by the Australian Government through the RISE (Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand) fund, and the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.

No comments: