Sunny Ray and the Magnificent Moon

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4 October, Spiegeltent
Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival 2017

There’s a lot to navigate before you get to your seat in children’s theatre. Who’s eaten? Who’s peed? Base human needs. As carers with young charges, adult audience holds its collective breath throughout: Will it be too loud? Will strobe lights trigger night terrors? Will the amped-up atmosphere bring on an ADHD episode? There’s a fine line between excitement and tension.

The early signs have us on edge. There’s a ukulele. A spacehopper. Fairy lights and a disco ball. A bubble canon. We brace ourselves. But when it comes – in the form of a divine Sunny Ray and her side-kick Magnificent Moon – it’s so gentle, it’s more slow-release fun than full-noise adrenaline. This piece is pitched perfectly at the children here, in a way that brings out the best in them. They are fully engaged, focused and listening, and participating at the levels they each feel comfortable with. It’s touching to watch. There is some audience participation in the piece, but more interesting is the way the performers participate with direction from the audience. The audience steers the course and the actors, assuredly, go with it. That takes being confident and comfortable in their craft and their skills, to pick up the threads of story, no matter what comes along to steal control.

Magnificent Moon is played as a terrifically narcissistic Elvis with a hilarious Zoolander pout. Sunny Ray – the Sun itself – is naïve and delightfully so, with a huge humble heart and a severe case of fomo. Sunny wants to “Stay up late and party with the moon”, but can’t because of the work she needs to get done during the day. When she does find a way to hang out all night, she sleeps in the following morning and the moon is left to do her work for her. The story is simple and uses the rhythms and repetition so satisfying and soothing to children, well to all of us really. It doesn’t drift too far into a saccharine morality tale, leaving us with just, “You’re the best at being you”. And that’s enough, it doesn’t need to try harder or do more. The children’s needs are well met and they skip out into the afternoon sunshine. Where some children’s theatre is chippies, coke and candy floss, this show is sandwiches and fruit kebabs.

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