Review / Lea creates an ‘underwater wonderland’

theatre / “Reef UP!”, The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, until October 7. Reviewed by SAMARA PURNELL.

“Reef UP!” is set in an emporium of jelly-fish parasols, fairly lights and decorations. Photos by Lorna Sim

AN underwater wonderland, complete with Neptune resplendent in gold cape, welcomed the “littlies” and their grown-ups upon entering The Courtyard Studio.

“Reef UP!” is set in an emporium of jelly-fish parasols, fairly lights and decorations suspended around the stage and above the audience.

It took a few moments to notice that, placed to the side of stage, was a net in the shape of a headless fish, filled with plastic bags and rubbish. An indicator of the message and themes of the show.

“Reef UP!” creator Liz Lea is joined by Liesel Zink, Michael Smith and Greg Barratt (King Neptune), for the show, which is around 50 minutes in length. The marvellously ditzy characters, lit by Roni Wilkinson and in wonderful costumes – sequins, wigs, shimmering outfits and an array of beautiful hats and hairpieces, inform and amuse with many facts and tidbits of information. They present the information amid dance and music, with a myriad of musical genres including songs from Taylor Swift and “Hollywood” to songs from Beethoven.

Zink’s bottle-nosed dolphin and crown of thorns starfish were wonderful and her appealing demeanour and pace of delivery was perfectly suited to the production.

The performers dramatically promulgate many numerical facts and complex environmental connections (for small kids) in a rather scatter-gun approach. With a dance routine preceding much of the dialogue, it was often somewhat breathlessly delivered.

The set could be utilised even further, and the box jellyfish costume, worn by Lea, drew gasps of admiration from the young girls in the audience, on its all-too-fleeting appearance. A serene multimedia backdrop of animated fish and stingrays could also be used, without causing distress, as another, immediate medium to demonstrate to the audience the issues of rising ocean temperatures and the harm plastics and rubbish has when it reaches the ocean.

The ending was not as tight as it could have been, due to a costume change interlude and the offer of audience participation for a dance. More upbeat/familiar music may be beneficial to encourage the audience onto the stage. Neptune joining the cast for a dance number seemed a natural conclusion with an upbeat tempo.

The overall message was to “reduce, reuse and recycle” as well as to make sure we are mindful not to litter, encouraging those around us to do the same. The production was visually enthralling and presented with humour, lightness and great energy from the performers. 

Reef UP! is suitable for young children, although some of the facts and figures given may be a little overwhelming for little ones to absorb or digest. It’s also entertaining for the adults.

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