Pete the Sheep
Director: Jonathan Biggins
ARA Darling Quarter Theatre
Mondays to Saturdays: 11am & 1pm
April 6-17, 2021
Gratefully, we welcome back Monkey Baa Children’s Theatre to the stage after a year’s absence. Their first 2021 production, an hilarious and imaginative musical adaption of Pete the Sheep, based on a whimsical tale by Jackie French and Bruce Whatly, adapted by Eva Di Cesare, Sandra Eldridge and Tim McGarry, with lyrics by Phil Scott, is dynamic and absorbing entertainment for the 4 to 84 year olds.
In this true Aussie story Shaun (shorn if you didn’t notice), the Shearer’s best mate, is not the traditional sheep dog but a sheep sheep called Pete, whose conversational range while confined to baaa-baaa (barber if you didn’t notice) is remarkably expressive.
The innocent optimistic white-singleted Shaun played with wide-eyed candour by Oliver Lacey and his polite and perceptive sheep sheep, an eloquent-eyed Joe Kalou, turn up for their first job and are met with derision by the blue-singleted
old-time no-nonsense shearers, Ratso the Ringer (a suitably overbearing Andrew James) and his sheep-like offsiders Big Bob (Joe Dinn) and Bungo (Kalou).
Shaun is convinced that he and Pete can do the job. Maybe he is inexperienced but he has TAFE certification (the subject of much merriment) and Pete has his own method of bringing in the sheep. The tough working dogs, Brute (Dinn), Tiny (James) and Fang (Lacey), are not impressed.
However, as we might predict, the sheep (again Dinn, James and Lacey) much prefer Pete’s courteous method of rounding up and Shaun’s more respectful manner of handling them. Threatened by the new, afraid of change, the authoritarian Ratso holds a meeting in which he has the main input and poor Shaun is told there is no place for him in the traditional shearing shed.
Rejected Shaun wonders where he will fit in – the only downbeat moment of the show – but Pete is an ideas sheep. There occurs then one of those truly magical transformations in the theatre as the old corrugated iron and hessian shearing shed set miraculously becomes a silver walls and mirror up-market hairdressing salon. Rejection paves the way for innovation, and the sheep sweet-talked by Pete seize the opportunity to expresses their individuality within the flock through ridiculously funny wool styles. No more just “youse”( or ewes).
The dogs follow, seeing the opportunity to express their identity through distinctive cuts, and shearer Big Bob craves the inner Andy Warhol. It all ends well – and inclusively – as Ratso joins the salon as the short-back-and-sides man. Who would have thought it, but it is all strangely convincing froth upon a wholesome milk shake. The twin messages that we need to accommodate change creatively and that we can maintain personal identity while still working within the larger group, go down nicely with a dessertspoonful of rollicking fun.
There were so many good aspects to this production. Scott’s foot-tapping music, the witty lyrics, and the amusingly fitting choreography and the superb timing of the four actors who met the very big demands made upon them with glorious energy. Congratulations to James Browne for conjuring sheep and dogs from clever head wear – and weird and wonderful hair styles – and to the actors for capturing so well recognisable ovine and canine mannerisms. Special praise should go to Lacey and Kalou who brought such an endearing wackiness and conviction to the roles of Shaun and Pete.
Monkey Baa has excellent production values and in the capable and experienced hands of director Jonathan Biggins, Pete the Sheep is a winner. So are the free ice-creams received by the actors, directors, writers and audiences of the future as they exit this lovely intimate theatre space.