The best children’s shows for young audiences are often ones that are the most like silent movies: minimal talk, maximum action, and if you happen to miss any dialogue because of the rustle of a young crowd, you still get the essence of it. So it is with Grug and the Rainbow, making a 2 day visit to The Kennedy Center from the Windmill Theatre Company of Australia.
Based on the Grug series of childrens’ books by Australian author/illustrator Ted Prior, these charming tales may be unknown to many American readers, but the lighthearted stories of Grug and his friends are a comforting adventure for youngsters.
For one thing, the stories open up a bit of the wider world for young audiences: Grug himself started out life as the top of a burrawang tree, and his little thatched body looks like nothing you’ve seen before. He’s an appealing little fellow, rather troll-like with a rounded head and goggley eyes, and goofy, too-big bare feet. Puppet designer Tamarta Rewse does a good job of translating Prior’s original illustrations into characters with heart; Grug can’t move much, but his eyes, glancing side to side, give us all the emotions he’s feeling.
The show is aimed for the youngest of audiences, and really hasn’t much by way of plot: Grug sees a rainbow, and despairs of re-creating it, but the puppeteers, alternating between puppet characters and being themselves, figure out ways to bring color to Grug’s life. Yellow becomes a bicycle, blue a flower, red the sunburn on Grug’s nose when he goes to the beach.
The sequences could really come in any order, and the fun is not in a buildup of any kind but more as a series of vignettes that Grug shares with his friends. We meet Snoot the Echidna, and Cara the Carpet Snake- friendly creatures from the Australian bush, who interact with Grug and share his offbeat adventures.
There are several bits of audience participation throughout the show- kids help to find colors of the rainbow, and there’s a delightful moment when Grug, with his new indigo drum, encourages the kids to stand up and dance along to the music. (and for adults, this is a nicely disguised bit to get the wiggles out halfway through the show).
The set by designer Jonathan Oxlade is a seemingly simple affair of large carpeted hills, which in truth contained a seemingly endless supply of surprises. During the show, a little bridge pops out of the side, we see Grug’s darling little underground home (complete with stairs and a nestlike bed); and lighted colors ‘painted’ by brush to illustrate the rainbow’s hues. Small, dollhouselike homes nestle in the hills and there’s even an entire schoolyard complete with playground. One of the biggest laughs of the show was Grug spinning on the school roundabout until he gets dizzy and spins off of it– silly fun for kids and grownups alike.
Want to go?
Grug and the Rainbow
closes March 19, 2017
Details and tickets
It’s a sweet show, made all the more endearing for the thoughtful design. There are moments when it’s just about movement: a paintbrush turns different colors; Grug trundles up a hill, getting smaller and smaller in the distance (accomplished by using smaller and smaller puppets); and Cara the Snake pulls an ambulance, only to have Grug tumble off and roll down the hill. And Grug on his tiny yellow bicycle, feet pedaling round and round, is simply hilarious- it’s guaranteed to make the grumpiest grownup laugh.
If there are any complaint to be had, it’s that the sound was rather quiet the day I attended this show: when it’s a packed house, turn up the volume a bit on performer’s mikes, for we missed more than a few lines. But that’s a small detail, and anyway, we get the overall gist: and Grug gets his rainbow in the end.
Intended for audiences aged 2 and up.
Show: Grug and the Rainbow Director: Sam Haren . Cast: Matt Crook, Nathan O’Keefe, Ellen Steele . Designer: Jonathan Oxlade . Composer: DJ TRIP . Technical Designer: Chris Petridis . Puppet maker: Tamara Rewse . Produced by Windmill Theatre Company, Australia . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.