Show: "The HOBYAHS" (pronounced Hob-yars)
Description: Traditional English-style panto with a distinctly Australian flavour.
Potted Plot: Captain Lightning, a falsely accused bushranger, and his horse, Barney, are on the run from the bombastic Trooper Trott, when they meet the Peppercorn family -- Mr Peppercorn (traditional panto comic), Mrs Peppercorn (traditional panto Dame) and their young daughter, Amelia -- who are returning from the city with their winter supplies.
The young couple fall instantly in love and rendezvous by the creek as night falls. Captain Lightning warns Amelia not to go out alone after dark because the horrible, green Hobyahs have woken from their 100-year sleep and are on the prowl, looking for people to eat.
The Hobyahs eventually capture everyone but Captain Lightning, who rescues them all, drives off the Hobyahs, receives a pardon, marries Amelia and everyone lives happily ever after in the Gloomy Gullies.
This is the thirtieth anniversary season of this rollicking panto, last seen in Melbourne at the National Theatre in 1986 starring the ever-youthful Darryl Cotton as Captain Lightning.
A co-production by Diamond Valley Singers and The Children's Theatre Company of Victoria, it's a show that will thrill kids of all ages -- even pre-schoolers.
John Counsel and Greg Simmons, both former primary school teachers, wrote the clever script to appeal to everyone. Littlies as young as three can follow the story purely on the action, which is based on the attention span of a 3-year-old. Older, school-age kids can follow the dialogue and the constant jokes and sight gags, while adults will enjoy a whole different level of entertainment through irony, humour and subtle innuendo. (It goes right over the kids' heads!)
Anyone familiar with the original story from the Victorian Second Book, a reader for second grade in primary schools from 1937 to 1952, may wonder how such a grisly, terrifying tale translates to the stage without scaring the wits out of young audiences. The answer is simple: the basic plot remains the same, except for the absence of little yellow dog Dingo, his dismemberment and reconstruction -- which would present some legal and logistical problems! -- and the extraordinary level of audience participation.
I attended the final dress rehearsal, along with a small, but enthralled, audience, and I was transported back to my early days as an avid panto fan at the Tivoli and Princess Theatres in the early 1950s. The Hobyahs themselves, wonderfully played by two teams of young dancers from the north-eastern suburbs, are menacing, but are rarely seen and remain remote from the audience. No young audience members were terrified by them... in fact, the vague scariness seemed to heighten their enjoyment of the show enormously. As the program notes, most children's stories
Captain Lightning (played by Drew Hanna) is a dashing, over-grown 10-year-old who seems to spend most of the show blissfully unaware of the events taking place around him, much to the noisy frustration of the audience. Amelia (played by Esther Counsel) is a heart-winner with a delightful stage manner and voice, and Barney (played by Suzie and Louise Wilton) -- a show stopper with his soft-shoe dancing -- turns out to be the real hero!
Trooper Trott, the bumbling, bragging nemesis of the hero, is played with overblown gusto by co-writer, John Counsel. His constant arguments with the young audience ("There are no such things as Hobyahs!"), and witty banter with Mr and Mrs Peppercorn, are a feature of the show.
Trooper Trott's bad-tempered prize draws after each interval are also a highlight of the show for the kids. Autographed posters, personalised Arrest Warrants and more make for extra fun and enjoyment... entry is free through the prize draw bin in the foyer.
Hen-pecked Mr Peppercorn steals hearts, especially with his jug band song, while his domineering spouse -- far more terrifying than any Hobyahs! -- is a constant source of gratuitous advice, bluster and hilarity. 'Her' strip tease act before bed time is hysterically funny, and the repartee between the pair is a never-ending source of chuckles and side-splitting laughter throughout the show.
The show has three acts and two intervals, and each act is more exciting than the one before it. There are signs in the foyer, and warnings in the excellent program, reminding kids to visit the toilet during interval to avoid any embarassing 'accidents' caused a combination of excitement, involvement and refusal to leave the theatre for any reason once the action begin.
No review of this hilarious production can be considered complete without mentioning the Gloomy Gullies Gala Goodtime Orchestra, a terrific 4-piece band that sits right on the stage and is an integral part of the show. The music is wonderful and encompasses an amazing range of styles, from Irish jig to haunting ballads, jug band and jazz to punk rock... these talented, versatile musicians handle it all in their stride, while alternatively losing or hijacking the plot!
As a long-disappointed fan of traditional children's panto, I have to say that The Hobyahs is, without question, the best I've seen in a generation or more. It's fun, it's exciting, it's noisy (the kids are right into it from the moment Captain Lightning appears in a clap of thunder and flash of lightning at the start of the show), it's hilariously funny, and it appeals to every age group. The songs are foot-tapping and heart-melting and the actors are totally convincing.
When you walk into the theatre and spy the Peppercorn family's hut in the Gloomy Gullies, with the Hobyahs' cave to one side of the stage and the band on the other, sunlight trickling through treetops, you can sense that you're about to experience something special.
You won't be disappointed.
The programs: It's been a long time since I saw a program with so much appeal for children. Full colour throughout, it includes colour photos of the characters and actors, background information and words to songs for singing along. And at just $2 each, every kid can afford one. The large fold-out poster in the centre will be a feature on bedroom walls for months to come.
Finally, let me mention the production's web site. It's astonishing! You can find out almost anything you could imagine about the show, the season, the songs, the characters... there are games to download, print-your-own WANTED posters, you can listen to all the longs on streaming audio, as well as book and pay for your tickets. Be sure you visit it if you're connected to the Internet at www.hobyahs.com.
Where is it?
Warrandyte High School Theatre, Warrandyte-Heidelberg Road (just past Templestowe) -- Melway Map 34 H 2. One of the best in Melbourne for children's shows -- every seat has clear views of all the action, and the sound system is excellent.
Don't let the location put you off. It's easy to find and easy to get to. From the south and east take Springvale, Blackburn or Middleborough Roads to Reynolds Road, then take Anderson's Creek Road to Warrandyte-Heidelberg Road. Head right (east) toward Warrandyte and the school is at the top of the first hill -- watch for the large Hobyahs sign! you can't miss it.
From the north and west, take Bell Street, the Eastern Freeway or Ring Road to Tram Road/Williamson's Road/Fitszimons Lane (same road), then turn east into Porter Street -- which becomes Warrandyte-Heidelberg Road.
When is it?
Monday 26 to Friday 30 December, and Tuesday 3 to Sunday 8 January.
Every day at 2.00 pm and Thursday, Friday and Saturdays at 7:30 pm as well.
How much is it?
Tickets are all at kids' prices -- $18 per person. For families or groups of 5 or more, tickets are just $15 each... brilliant value! Book online at the outstanding web site at www.hobyahs.com, or by phone on 03-9435-6639.
SIX stars out of five! This is a show you shouldn't miss. Only the cruellest parents would even think of not taking their children to see what will be one of the entertainment highlights of their young lives.
And if you think I'm being uncharacteristically enthusiastic, I am. It's been a long, long time since I enjoyed any show as much as this one. Congratulations, Diamond Valley Singers and The Children's Theatre Company of Victoria... you have an absolute winner on your hands!
A fully staged and costumed production tracing the musical and theatrical collaboration between W.S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan and Richard D'Oyly Carter
The story is narrated by Richasrd D'oyly Carte and the action alternates between rehearsal and performance mode presenting excerpts from all 13 Savoy operas.
At times sad, but frequently witty, this show could just as easily be titled " G & S - all the best bits"
Written & Directed by Donna and Andrew Foote this show presents all the joy and colour expected of a full Gilbert & Sullivan production