Exuberance! That’s the key descriptor for ATA’s treatment of Doctor Dolittle Jr. Sheer exuberance! Director Aria Stevenson has prepared and schooled two separate casts for performance and I saw the “Toggle” cast in action. There is no need for a fancy set and costuming is mostly symbolic by headgear or mask with the odd exception such as the Pushme-Pullyu Llama. Eminently effective. The adventures of Doctor Dolittle are told directly and simply via the collective talents and team work of the ensemble.
Movement is key to this lively little package. Choreographer, Caley Watt, has kept routines simple, crisp and bright. It complements all things musical. MD Nikki Long has both solo and chorus work (for example “Talk to the Animals” and “The Time of our Lives”) pretty much on song throughout. It’s happy, infectious foot-tapping stuff.
Whilst the play relies upon the collective ability and energy of the whole cast to carry the day, there are some individual performances worthy of a specific mention. Doctor Dolittle played by Bennett maintains an exceptional level of concentration throughout. From learning how to speak “Dog” per courtesy of Polynesia to hitting all the right notes in her solo contributions, Bennett provides the right stuff in her performance. She is well supported by her parrot Polynesia (Keely McNamee) her erstwhile animal linguistics tutor. They share good rapport on stage.
Madeline (Clare Wilks) consistently speaks up and out to her audience with clear diction. She effectively maintains her Irish lilt without crossing language borders! Caitlin Tyler plays Emma and I was impressed by her treatment of the song “So Many Places to See”. She sells it well with voice good and true. Her uncle General Bellowes (Olivia Niejalke) is the haughty and arrogant “Pooh Bah” of the piece. The play’s villain in a way. Olivia conjures him in a nicely pompous and imperial manner with his various proclamations of Dolittle’s punishment and ultimate reinstatement.
Albert Blossom whose reaction to the Pushme-Pullyu creature is “I’ve never seen anything like It”, is played in Ringmaster style by Lucy Robinson. All other minor characters such as Tommy (Jay Hines) demonstrate confidence and admirable stage discipline at all times.
I liked the dramatic entrance of the Islanders which is executed with stylish precision. Their spokesperson Straight Arrow (Tilka Wheal) then leads the ensemble into a greener realm with a changed wording reprise of “SAVE all the Animals”. This heralds the appearance of the Giant Pink Sea Snail, the very objective of Dolittle and his crew and for which they have braved the high seas and a terrible storm. The rare creature lives! It is not extinct. And therein lies the timely message for our environment, that all creatures, the ordinary, the weird and the wonderful rely on our protection.
Adelaide Theatre Academy, like other youth theatre groups in and around our city, is living proof that the future of amateur theatre in our Arts conscious state is in good hands. Indeed it has a bright and vibrant future. Jolly good show!!
Photo: Ruby Faith