Category: Childrens theatre

Review: The 91-Storey Treehouse

A show with an anything-can-happen feeling

By Rebecca Waese

Behold, the lobby of the Melbourne Arts Centre contains a giant submarine sandwich as big as a real submarine for your kids to command! This is the first taste of the oversize imagination in The 91-Storey Treehouse based on the best-selling series created by children’s author Andy Griffiths and illustrator Terry Denton and adapted for the stage by Richard Tulloch.

Now towering at 91-storeys, Andy’s and Terry’s treehouse ups the ante from the previous 78-Storey CDP Kids stage production, with vast and dangerous levels including a desert island, an oversize whirlpool, a brain-draining fortune teller named Madame Know-it-All, and the terrible task of babysitting Mr. Big Nose’s three grandchildren who keep disappearing. It’s a polished, inventive, silly and stupendous production about imagination and solving problems at the last possible second.

All four of the characters, especially the intrepid Andy and Terry, are played with fantastic energy and fine physical comedic timing, directed by Liesel Badorrek. The children in the audience enjoyed the repetitive banter between the best friends and were hooked. When asked if Andy and Terry should push the giant red button to see what would happen next, just about every young person in the audience shot up a hand with shining, excited eyes. What happens next, due to a fantastical multi-level set and design team created by Mark Thompson, is a mystery worth waiting for and one that delights the audience. With drawers that shoot open at the right time and ramps and brightly coloured curtains and hideaways, the set captures the anything-can-happen feeling that kids know so well.

Lighting Designer Nicholas Higgins deserves a special mention as he transformed the stage into a psychedelic Banana-inspired Narnia land and a massive spider web. The show features some musical and dance numbers that work well. My favourite was the one that asks kids, ‘What would you put in your treehouse?’, leaving them to dream up their own dangerous and delightful scenarios.

From the forgetful memories of Andy and Terry who are suffering from having their brains drained to the wasteful wishes of Terry who blows his genie opportunity, this instalment of the Treehouse series is a winner. I would suggest it is best suited for kids aged 6-10 but older kids who have read the books will enjoy the adaptation as well. There is a an Auslan performance on January 11 and a relaxed performance on January 18.

Photography courtesy of Heidrun Lohr






Review: Tetris

The solitary pursuit of shapes to human forms

By Rebecca Waese

I never would have thought there would be so much humanity in a dance show based around Tetris. Until today. Years ago, I used to play Tetris when I wanted to step back from the chaos of the world and find comfort in falling shapes and finding solutions in patterns. Arch 8’s production of Tetris, choreographed by Erik Kaiel of the Netherlands, at the Melbourne Arts Centre, brings the solitary pursuit of shapes to human forms in a dance piece designed for young people but inspiring for all ages. It celebrates human connection and the balance between playing together and taking time out to be quiet and calm.

With a gentle start, set to piano music, the four performers create geometric shapes with their bodies, cuddling and balancing and filling in the spaces and voids between them. The movements are comforting and creative, nesting and curling and stacking on laps and backs. Watching the performers’ connection with each other and with the audience, I remember how it used to feel rolling down a great big grassy hill with your best friend or brother. The foursome made a triple-decker wheelbarrow centipede with their bodies and took it for a walk. They showed how sometimes you withdraw and sometimes you are left out. They showed how sometimes you are perfectly in balance and sometimes you collapse and need to be inventive to be included.

Moving from Tetris to Rubik’s cubes, the pace picked up and the performers discovered that they could control one another’s movements by spinning the cubes. To the audience’s delight, the performers gave children in the audience a turn to shake and twist the cubes as the performers responded to their every whim. Soon, the performers were all over the theatre, leaping on the seats, engaging with audience members, sitting on laps and even lifting and spinning children who were game.

This began the most amazing interaction where the audience members became co-creators in the show. Kids and adults alike were invited to mirror and shadow one another, give horsey rides, build bridges and climb through spaces onstage. At one point I’m sure there were more people onstage than in the seats. When it was over, we all took a bow and clapped for the performers and each other. It wasn’t forced or stagey; it was an amazing moment of human connection. Far more satisfying than playing Tetris on your own, this performance lifted the game to an experience of joy and humanity. I agree with my eleven-year-old son who rated it an 11/10. Give Tetris a go.

Tetris is playing at the Arts Centre until September 28th. Tickets at

Rebecca Waese is an Honorary Associate at La Trobe University in the Department of Creative Arts and English.

Photography by Didier Philispart

Review: Sesame Street Circus Spectacular

Full of wonderment and surprise

By Narelle Wood

Silver’s Circus presents an action packed circus show, with something to entertain everyone. Sesame Street characters such as Cookie Monster, Elmo, and Bert and Ernie, start the show with a song and a dance, and are soon joined by a number of different juggling and acrobatic acts. Before you know it the beloved fluffy characters have decided the circus looks like a fun, and wander off to wonder what circus acts they might be able to contribute.

The circus acts themselves include everything from juggling, monocycle riding, acrobatics, hoola-hoops, motorbikes, and what I’m going to refer to as the rings of death. Most of the ‘oohhs’ and ‘aaahhhs’ came from the adults in the audience, with perhaps the difficulty level of some of the tricks being a over the really little ones’ heads. But for most part everybody’s eyes were wide with amazement and there were plenty of moments that the two little people with me were in absolute awe. Four motorbikes in the spherical cage was “crazy” (in a good way) according to my nephew, and my niece was very much taken with tightrope walker’s ability to cross the rope in pointe shoes and on pointe. It was, however, the dogs that were a clear crowd favourite, especially when the dogs were being naughty.

There are moments when the music is really loud, making it hard to understand some of the talking, and there are times where the lights are really bright, or turned off altogether. The music and lights worked really well to highlight the performances and allow the stage to be reset but, while most of the kids coped, it is worth thinking about this if there are any members of your party that have light or sound sensitivities.

That been said, there was definite excitement from everyone to see the Sesame Street characters live on stage. I’m not sure the younger kids would have understood the jokes or what the Sesame Street characters were singing about, so I would have liked to see the Sesame Street characters worked into the show a little bit more.

Sesame Street Circus is a show full of wonderment and surprise, with the occasional nerve-wrecking moment. It is definitely a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

Silver’s Circus’s Sesame Street Circus Spectacular is playing until the 11th of October. Tickets available at

Review: Emil and the Detectives

Slingsby Productions presents Emil and the Detectives

By Narelle Wood

Emil and The Detectives brings to life the 1929 German children’s classic by the same name written by Erich Kästner, adapted for the stage by Nick Bloom. Part detective mystery and part tale in friendship, the story follows Emil’s adventures from his small town to the big city, as he tries to catch a thief and the friends he meets along the way.

The adventure begins at Newtown as Emil (Danielle Catanzaritti) is given money from her mother to take to her grandmother. Emil embarks on a train journey and meets a peculiar man, Max Grundeis, in a bowler hat. Emil wakes up on the train to find both Grundeis and his money gone. Terrified of what his mother will say, Emil chases the man through the city streets and on the way meets a number of other children and engages their help to catch the thief. Nathan O’Keefe – who plays all the other characters including Grundeis and the mother – helps narrate the story as it goes along.

The story is aimed at age 7 and above, but it does seem as though it would be better suited for a slightly older audience. O’Keefe is great as all the different characters; the nuanced differences between each of the characters was brilliant, but occasionally the transitions from character to character were lost on the young person I was with. I found the storyline itself was full of exposition, which was good, but I was left wanting some more action. That said, the staging and production value (designers Wendy Todd and Ailsa Paterson and lighting designer Chris Petridis) was amazing, featuring miniatures, lighting and shadow effects, digital animations and hidden shelves in amongst the set. The costumes and music are reminiscent of something out of a Sherlock Holmes’ mystery, which helps to add to the detective-adventure genre feel.

Emil and the Detectives is a lovely story with some great morals and good feels as Emil learns to ask for help and what it means to be a part of a small town community.

Emil and the Detectives was performed 8 September at the Alexander Theatre, Monash University, Clayton. See here for more information about the 2018 MLIVE program.