A Pocketful of Joy

Sally Hussey

A mix of puppetry, physical and musical theatre, with comedic touches to warm the over-fives audience.
A Pocketful of Joy

A mix of puppetry, physical and musical theatre, with comedic touches to warm the over-fives audience, A Pocketful of Joy is a vibrant production with a gentle message of finding joy within.

The play draws loosely on the Wizard of Oz, with Dorothy-like protagonist, Holly (Maddie Thiele), who sets out on a journey with a rock-and-roll rat, Boris (Tara Rankine) – a hand puppet sometimes punching above his weight – to find the captured Mayor of Joyville (Maddy Kelly) and restore joy to her city.

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Although the rock-and-roll element drifts astray, Boris is a captivating character. The puppeteer’s on-stage presence – including Boris’ love interest, French-talking ‘ratologist’, Dr Doris (Kelly) – doesn’t diminish the imaginative performance of the story.

The production has a simple design. Musical performance and off-stage vocal effects comprise the elementary sound design. Coloured screens flank a back-lit structure and an onstage keyboard, intermittently fallen upon by the characters, conceals a tea set and table that, drawn into play, forms the highlight of production’s audience interaction.

When the tone of the play shifts to panto – ushered in by talking horse, Geraldine Doily of Shenanigan Shire County (Rankine) – the costumes appear spontaneously pulled from a backstage dress-up basket. Scenery changes, too, are rudimentary: the narrative fork in the road is depicted by simple, laminated drawings, conveying good and bad paths.

Holly’s journey to Goldville is beset with archetypal obstacles – a troll, an invisible door, a riddle and an ill-chosen path that leads to the ‘nasty’ ‘evil’ Goldville, a greedy, joyless city that worships money and land. Lured there by singing voices, Holly discovers that the joy she is seeking the Mayor to restore to Joyville is actually within herself.

Pocketful of Joy is aimed at over fives, and, as expected, consists of assorted snot, farting and bum jokes: the monkey ‘Harry Redbum’; talking horse Geraldine, who bends over before the audience to display her inherited asset; and repeated references to the polka-dotted Mayor’s ‘jiggling bum’. But, like the visual comedy, it sometimes falls short: ‘Not even my farting works’ laments Holly, who’s minute long fart can’t make a Joyvillian laugh.

The play evokes popular children’s classics from the Wizard of Oz to Dr-Seuss – with a vague hint at the Muppets in Dr Doris. In her English dulcet tones, Geraldine, too, recalls Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter, inviting small audience members on stage to her high tea party. But the play doesn’t labour these inclusions.

Similarly, popular cultural references are incorporated in an uncomplicated way, while upturning stereotypes. Patty (Hannah Tivendale), a kung-fu granny guarding Marshmallow Marsh, breaks into ‘Pattynam Style’. (Sporting a hand-embroidered ‘BORDER SECURITY’ cardigan there is also an obvious allusion of wider cultural import.)

Written and composed – largely – by the all female ensemble cast, comprising performing arts and music graduates, the play knows its audience. It is not an immersive theatrical experience, but provides enough audience interaction to captivate and engage the surprisingly informed under ten theatre-goers. The acting quartet has toured the play nationally in primary schools and at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, which contributes to the ease of the cast’s performance.

What Pocketful of Joy lacks in production qualities, it gains in imagination – scooping handfuls of marshmallows, Holly gestures to the audience to try, as tiny hands gobble up morsels of make-believe.

Music forms the heart of this play, and its message of finding joy where it hides. The gift of song sends tingling feelings inside the Troll; Boris is resuscitated with ‘soul music’, and Holly, in song, finds that ‘a pocketful of joy is enough to get me through’.

Holly’s journey discovers not so much that ‘there’s no place like home’, as the realisation that joy is found within. But this is accompanied by the gentle message of the transformative potential of music and imagination – this is children’s theatre at its best.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A Pocketful of Joy

Sausage Dog Productions
Created by: Chanelle Sheehan, Hannah Tivendale, Maddie Thiele and Tara Rankine
Performed by: Hannah Tivendale, Maddy Kelly, Maddie Thiele and Tara Rankine

La Mama Courthouse, Drummond St, Carlton
Melbourne International Comedy Festival for Kids
www.lamama.com.au
5 – 13 April

About the author

Sally Hussey is a Melbourne-based writer, curator and independent producer.