‘The Phoenix and the Fighting Pandas of Yunnan Province’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by June 12, 2018

‘The Phoenix and the Fighting Pandas of Yunnan Province’ was written in 2010 by Murdoch Associate Professor Jenny de Reuck who, after attaining a first class Honours in English, completed a Masters on the plays of Harold Pinter and then a PhD in suffering and empathy.

This show was first presented at Murdoch’s Nexus Theatre 8 years ago.

In collaboration with the Malaysian Temple of Fine Arts, Jenny formed the Murdoch University Children’s Performing Group, a social and moral educational theatre which has travelled to numerous Perth’s primary schools. They demonstrate and instruct in all aspects of a theatre production, including sound and lighting design, make-up and costume, along with set design and building. The Group has even produced an original musical score which is played live in the theatre or on tour. As you may guess, many of these children have grown into mature, overseas theatre presenters – who still look to Murdoch as their Nirvana.

The production was performed by Murdoch University Children’s Theatre at the Nexus Theatre (manager Tim Brain), Murdoch University, South Street, Murdoch, with several performances until Saturday 9th June.

 

The scene: a beautiful island, Hainan in the South China Seas – a real island, not a coral reef filled in with concrete.

The bright, attractive set and colourful art work is by Ally Snell. The floor is a sandy beach. The side walls are scarlet, adorned with large, black Chinese lettering.  Hanging from the ceiling are paper lanterns and some brass chimes. At the rear of the stage is a royal palace, with an arch and regal throne. Above the audience on the lighting gantry is a pirates’ ship, complete with a set of cannons.

The lighting, which was mentored by John King, was designed by Injeong Hwang. The sound effects and music control was by Jason Tolj.

The production was managed by James Jury, with stage management by Aaron Hamilton and Thomas Wendt. The numerous exotic props were supplied by Maggie Cope-Thomas. The energetic fly operator was Kamara Churchill

 

      One of the ancient Tribes of Sea, Wuzhishan, comprises a family of turtles. Sima, the mother turtle (Kathryn Vincent) arrives on the island of Hainan where she has gone for decades. She has a clutch of eggs to bury in the sand, but with the Duck family, comprising the Mother (Teijen Nureddin) and her delightful brood, Won Ton (Jordan Tabb), Tangerine (Claire Morgan) and Omelette (Katie Ward) on the lookout for 50 eggs for their cake recipe, Sima is scared that her eggs will be stolen.

      Also on the island is a squad of Australian animals from Fremantle. They are Captain Quokka (Nic Doig) and his caring crew, Kangaroo (Celeste Chinnery) and Wombat (Akena p’Ogwaro) who are there to protect the ancient Tribe of the Turtles from the wicked Pie Rats who strike fear into the heart of every creature.

     They are looking for the cruel Imperial Mandarin (Declan Atkinson) who is guarded by his henchman, Tang (Sarah Papadoulis) and the Mandarin’s soldiers, including the monkey, Manch (Maggie Cope-Thomas), Fenghuang (Amber Galbraith), Guan Yu (Evie MacPherson) and Yinglong (Cassie Power).

     A ballet dancing sea creature (dance choreographer Ellin Sears) dressed in black and called Sanya (Alana Lloyd-Jex) warns Captain Quokka about a villainous Pirate ship owned by the Pie Rats (what a terrible but delightful pun), Buccaneer Bluebeard (Melissa Kruger), Peking (Abby Varani), Ping (James Jury) and Pong (Zenna Sparkes-Santos). She advises seeking the help of the wise old Confucian Black Bear who knows how difficult their quest will be.  .

     To win this battle they must summon the bravest force in the whole of China: the Fighting Pandas of Yunnan, whose martial arts skills are the stuff of legends (fight choreography Scott Suffling). The fighting pandas’ troupe includes Lady Severa Ti (Ella Ewart), Tai Pan Do (Stephanie Beckham), Pilates (Hannah Matthes), Tai Chi (Durba Karki), Kung Fu (Tristan Peers), and a cute Rabbit (Andrew Kocsis) who pulls the captain around in a rickshaw.

 

A show for children should have an attractive poster design (Bronagh Legge) to get the audience into the theatre, plenty of colourful scenery, exciting action, bright costumes – with any animals appearing semi-realistic (costumes: Cody Lam, Melissa Merchant, Tiffany Banner, Declan Atkinson, Katie Ward and Akena p’Ogwaro), interesting facial makeup and hair creations (Róisín Keiley, Evie MacPherson, Alana Lloyd Jex, Claire Morgan, Amber Galbraith), along with clever lighting and unusual sound effects. Thanks to the experienced skills of director Melissa Merchant, this show had them all in abundance. The cast smiled and passed on their warmth and enthusiasm to the captivated audience.

How often do you see children’s shows with a complex score and musical arrangements that even adults have trouble enjoying? In this production, the original music played with an exciting assortment of Asian instruments, was composed by Nick Choo, a man that I am coming to dislike intensely! Why? Because he wrote the catchiest Duck song music (lyrics by Sarah Courtis) that everyone left the theatre singing – and I am still singing days later. A great talent, but an earworm that is driving me ‘quackers’. Well done Nick.

The children loved the whole experience.