Phoebe in Royal Jelly

Royal Jelly

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HBAF'19 / 
Spiegeltent / 
25 October / 
By Jess Soutar Barron (and Billie Barron)

Kids make great audiences. Their imaginations enter the tent ahead of them. When the soundscape of bees arrives around their heads, they manifest the swarm circling above them, they ooo and ahh warnings to younger siblings. “Careful, they sting,” says a little voice a few seats away.

Take a kid to the theatre and you get 50 minutes of peace and nurture future theatre patrons and punters, future theatre makers and even future theatre reviewers. I took mine to the theatre today, enjoyed the show side-by-side, then wrote this review, side-by-side.

Co Theatre Physical’s Royal Jelly is grounded in excellent physical theatre, a smooth blend of acrobatics and classic clowning. Energy is maintained throughout, but the flow still leaves space for each idea. There are the obligatory poo and vomit gags that go hand-in-hand with children’s theatre, but these are sweetly delivered (weirdly) and add to the overall wholesome flavour.

Royal Jelly is a kids’ play. But it’s kind of like a speech because it’s telling people about something that can be a humongous issue in parts of the world. There are two actors and so it’s a two-woman show, if that’s a thing.

The two actors deliver a cast of players including a curt Job Officer who cleverly lays out all the various roles in the hive, a melodramatic Queen who gives birth mid-sentence multiple times, and a wicked Mayor.

My favourite was the Mayor. He was so goofy and satisfyingly annoying! Like something you enjoy hating…someone to love/hate.

The script is nicely written and has layers that chime with kids from teeny to tweens, adults too. Themes aren’t dumbed down: “I had the word ‘change’ echoing in my head” says the hero. Vocabulary is delicious: “Nincompoop!” Beyond the script, it’s the verbal soundfx synchronised with deft contortions that make the show.

The interaction with the crowd is the thing they did best. They just interacted so well. They had loud voices and made everyone in the crowd laugh.

Today’s audience is the pluckiest, sassiest ever. They participate, often beyond the need to do so! They hoot and holler. They call out responses when they’re encouraged, and sometimes even when they’re not. “We won’t call it stealing, we’ll call it…” comes the prompt from the stage… “BORROWING!” bellows the crowd. This isn’t a set-up, they do that spontaneously! Then near the end the megalomaniac mayor waves the petition and demands “Who signed this?!” and every little treasure punches the air and shouts proudly “I signed it!”

It reminded me of Greta, and all those kids standing up for climate change. That’s a good thing. It’s good to realise a lot of activists are just kids.

The Festival does a great job carving out space for little people to get their share of festival fever. And top-class performers from throughout the festival world seem to keep a kids’ show up their sleeve alongside more serious grown-up work. It’s a good move too. Kids act, react and interact so well, and seeing quality shows like this are royal jelly for young minds, helping them to grow up into fantastic future festival fans.

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