In a Dark Dark Wood
Review by Cicely Binford
The Brothers Grimm weren’t afraid of the dark. They wrote down some of the creepiest, scariest fairy-tales and folk tales ever dreamed up by European minds, and though sometimes people thought they went too far into the dark, the Grimms managed to cement some of these folk tales into the collective mind of the Western world, so that they activate our imaginations to this day. Playwright Caleb Lewis let his imagination run wild with one of the Grimms’ most famous tales, Hansel and Gretel, and created a new play for Barking Gecko Theatre Company called In a Dark Dark Wood.
In a Dark Dark Wood is a modern Australian take on the German classic. It follows the story of Pippa and her little brother Mo, who live in a caravan by the woods. Pippa and Mo are celebrating Pippa’s birthday with their Mum and Dad and all of us who have come to the party. Pippa wants what us other kids get: shiny new things that come in plastic packages; but instead she has to settle for the things that her poor parents can afford to give her, like a hand mirror, a dishwashing glove, or a flat rubber bike tyre. What they lack in wealth, the family makes up for in love and imagination, but Pippa decides that’s still not enough and she sets off to find a new family. Mo isn’t far behind.
Together they journey deep into the woods and run into all kinds of adventures and creatures, spider webs (made out of sticky tape), a hermit crab who’s also looking for a bigger home, screechy unseen monsters lurking in the dark, until they find themselves on a beach next to an ice cream van that promises unlimited free ice cream. What a dream come true! …or is it?
Those of you who know the original tale can imagine for yourselves what might come next, and those of you who don’t, well I won’t be the one to spoil it for you! But I will say that Pippa and Mo have to work together using their big, huge imaginations to get themselves out of a sticky situation.
Matt Edgerton directs his first show with Barking Gecko since becoming Artistic Director, and it’s nothing short of a triumph. In a Dark Dark Wood is exciting and fun, with ingenious little twists and smart details that surprise and delight. Performers Francesca Savige (Pippa) and Scott Sheridan (Mo) shoulder the entire production with cheeky humour and boundless energy, switching from kids to parents to monsters with the turn of a cap for Sheridan or a quick swipe of the fringe for Savige. They must be exhausted by the end, but they never let on, and they know how to connect equally with kids and adults.
There are some scary bits for the littler ones, and perhaps the tweens might pretend they’re not enjoying it as much as everyone else (as tweens are often wont to do) but even these tricky customers leave the theatre with a smile and probably a thought or two about the show’s morals. For there are lessons to be learned about mass consumerism and throw-away culture, about family, about thinking outside the box, and all sorts of other goodies packed away into this portable caravan tale.
A good portion of what makes the show extra fun is the design and tech that does big, big things with simple materials, like a clothespin, a bedsheet and a torch, or a collander and some string. Set and costume designer Lawrie Cullen-Tait has designed a world that can be reconfigured to suit the characters’ and the audiences’ imaginations – she gives us our bearings but lets our minds do the rest. Shadow puppetry (mentored by Chloe Flockart) comes in and out to move us from place to place in the story, and makes some of the story’s impossible things possible. Ben Collins has found sound clips that evoke just the right mood, and Chris Donnelly‘s lights are frequently in on the jokes.
Kids, parents and people who like to laugh and have fun will all love this show. Don’t miss it.
In a Dark Dark Wood is touring to Kalamunda, Gosnells, and Mandurah until October 8, so for more information about dates, venues and tickets, visit the Barking Gecko website here.