Clingan takes theatre back to basics

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“The Lorax” cast… “What I saw was a very timely account of environmental destruction.”

IN the midst of and lamentations over the cancellation of large-scale theatre events, composer Judith Clingan last week delivered a timely reminder that theatre is about people, not technology.

Clingan was the first Canberra Artist of the Year and is also seemingly one of the last of the true believers in genuinely live theatre, shown last week at Queanbeyan, Weston and Tuggeranong through workshops and performances based on her 1979 music theatre version of “The Lorax”, with additions by her students.

When the planned January performance tour of the South Coast by Wayfarers Australia, was cancelled because of COVID-19, Clingan and the troupe were determined to do go ahead, so invited Canberra region children who love singing and acting to take part in a summertime look at Dr Seuss’ once-controversial parable about caring for nature.

Children aged six to 10 were invited to be Truffula Trees, Swomee Swans, Bar-ba-loots or Humming Fish, while those aged 11-14 were cast as the workers who build a factory and chop down the trees under the supervision of the greed-crazy Once-ler, whose philosophy is ?business is business! And business must grow”.

I caught the last show at Tuggeranong Town park on Saturday (January 15) and found, to my delight, a scene of organised chaos, with cast members running around handing out programs as Clingan shouted directions to the troupe with no pretence whatsoever that this was a realistic presentation and the children going along with it happily—the audience too.

As usual she had had composed the music, directed the show, narrated the fun bits of “Seussical” wordplay, painted the set and set up a donation system, with proceeds going to the Cobargo Wildlife Sanctuary.

What I saw was a very timely account of environmental destruction, with a strong performance, hat pulled over his eyes, by Marcel Cole as the villainous Once-ler and by Andriel Hernandez as the mysterious Lorax.

Backed by strong musical performances from a crack team of instrumentalists with sung harmonies from the chorus, the children romped about in their colourful costumes, some waving cloths to represent the “bright-coloured tufts of the Truffula trees”.

While the Truffula Trees, Swomee Swans, Bar-ba-loots and Humming Fish acted out the cycle of life and death then fled into the park, the strength of the show was in the central conflict between the Once-ler, determine to sell his Thneeds (“a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need”) and the Lorax, “who speaks for the trees, which you seem to be chopping as fast as you please!”

Despite all the fun and the final message that one small seed or one small child, can make a difference, this is a deeply sad tale.

Even the bankrupt Once-ler admits his guilt when he says: “I went right on biggering . . . selling more Thneeds. And I biggered my money, which everyone needs.”

The moral? As Seuss wrote: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”


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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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