Review: Possum Magic, Sydney Opera House

Judith Greenaway

Books don’t get much more loved than Possum Magic by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas.
Review: Possum Magic, Sydney Opera House

Possum Magic. Photo by Heidrun Lohr. 

Books don’t get much more loved than Possum Magic by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas. It’s 36-years-old now and is passing down through to the generations. So how to manage expectations when you attempt to put Hush and Grandma Poss on stage?  The answer is simple … magic!

Bake Monkey Baa Theatre Company’s international reputation, sprinkle it with some marvellous acting, mix through music, dance, screen animations, add half a lamington and you have 'people food' for the soul. Junior or senior.

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The character Hush is created with elevated delight by Sarah Greenwood. She scampers and squats and lolls about the stage and her excitement is the excitement of all the children watching. Always up for an adventure, Greenwood sends her creation through the bush with lots of action and some superbly placed low moments when Hush is scared and tired. The audience understands!

Grandma Poss, from Claudette Clarke, is sturdy and solid and trustworthy and a little dippy when her magic misfires and her memory fails. The children’s empathy for Grandma Poss is delicately balanced with the fun and mysteriousness of her character. Clarke touches the emotions of the audience as she helps, yet needs, her furry granddaughter.

The other characters and their shadows are all played by Alex Packard and Michael Yore and their transformations are one of the drivers of the story engagement. The staging of their entries by Director Sandra Eldridge gives them a magical ability to fade in and out and to take on roles within the role. Many children were on alert for them to appear and would nudge and point excitedly as they sidled up to lean against a tree. They are also the keepers of the starry swoosh.

The cascade of stars is an iconic image from the book. In this production, the visual elements of the story are not just in the well placed and beautifully drawn screen animations but in the subtle re-creation of those little details. This often re-read story thrives on recognisability. But the newer elements thrill too. The glorious audio track which gives the animals a motif.  Pluck and percussion for the emu and the strings that keep Hush invisible. Costuming that makes the visible believably invisible and lighting that gently guides emotion and focus.

The stage is detailed and beautiful and respectful of the original work and the props are big and uncluttered. There is a clever structure here which allows for time in the dark as our friends are travelling to new cities. We can share a whisper and question and a joyous laugh and if there’s a nose to be wiped … well.

This production is an experience to treasure and take with you to bedtime. Young or old, Possum Magic brings the paper and ink to life in a glorious way that children obviously adore and carers remember with genuine love and affection.  And after all that people food, a well- placed burp!

4 ½ stars ★★★★☆

Possum Magic
Based on the book by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas 

Sydney Opera House presents a Monkey Baa Theatre Company Production 
Adapted for the stage by Eva Di Cesare and Sandra Eldridge
Director Sandra Eldridge 
Supported by Arts on Tour, NSW Government, James N Kirby Foundation, Australia Council for the Arts, Magic Ink and Showtex

15-28 April 2019
Sydney Opera House

About the author

Judith grew up as a theatre brat with parents who were jobbing actors and singers.  She has now retired from a lifetime of teaching and theatre work with companies small and large and spends evenings exploring the wealth of indie and professional theatre available in Sydney.