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BWW Review: BLINKY BILL IS ON THE LOOSE – LIVE STREAM – ADELAIDE FRINGE 2021 at Streamed From The AmphiTheatre At The Black Box Theatres, Adelaide Botanic Gardens

The production is filled with energy and enthusiasm.

BWW Review: BLINKY BILL IS ON THE LOOSE – LIVE STREAM – ADELAIDE FRINGE 2021 at Streamed From The AmphiTheatre At The Black Box Theatres, Adelaide Botanic Gardens Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Tuesday 16th March 2021.

I live in a small country town, with no public transport in the evenings or on weekends. My car died, inconveniently, just before the start of this year's Adelaide Festival and Fringe, leaving me unable to travel to the city in order to review any productions. Because of the limitations on audience numbers imposed due to COVID-19, however, the world premiére of Blinky Bill is on the Loose has the option of watching a live stream at home, to permit more people to see the production. With the required seat spacing, the limit at the venue is only 45 people per performance.

Australian children are familiar with the iconic, Blinky Bill, the mischievous Koala from Green Patch, a character for children, created by Dorothy Wall, who first appeared in Blinky Bill: The Quaint Little Australian, published in 1933. Wall also illustrated the Blinky Bill books and newspaper strips that she created. There have also been numerous animated cartoons made of the character and his adventures.

His friends and neighbours are other Australian native animals, and his enemies, unsurprisingly, include humans. Ecology plays an important part in the stories, and it is an equally important part of this production, although neatly integrated, not driven home with a sledgehammer.

The light on the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is, incidentally, nicknamed Blinky Bill.

This production is presented by a new company, KoBugs Theatre Company, a joint venture by Koala Life (International Koala Centre of Excellence), and the well-established group, Theatre Bugs. They tell us that "KoBugs Theatre Company is dedicated to creating live theatre that unites the performing arts with science, nature, the environment, and the future of our planet - while having fun!" Having watched the performance, I can say that that is a succinct and accurate description.

This play, with musical numbers, is directed by Michael Eustice, with choreography by Carol Wellman Kelly. It was written by Robert Kimber and has original music by Michael Mills. Most of the roles are played by only three people, each taking four roles, Adelaide-based professional actors: Chloe Bremner, Jamie Hornsby, and Claire McEvoy. Appearing as Blinky Bill, is David Salter, with Ali Clarke as the voice George the Galah.

Michael Eustice is also the Managing Director of Theatre Bugs, and Artistic Director of the incredibly successful, award-winning, Red Phoenix Theatre. He brings an enormous amount of experience as an actor, director, and theatre educator for both children and adults to the production, and it shows.

Not having done so before, and in spite of beginning in plenty of time, I went around in circles for a while trying to log on to the live stream through the Fringe website. The performance had started, but I had only missed the first few seconds. An open area had three large boxes, each containing the costumes for one of the three multi-character performers, and a couple of small items making up the set, these being moved as needed by the players.

A shirt, a headpiece, a tail, or a carried prop, along with diverse characterisations, differentiated the various characters. The device was simple but effective. The animals were childlike, and great fun, and the natural resource plundering adult humans were greedy, selfish, and unpleasant, much like real life.

Blinky Bill is initially given his name, by his mother, and then he sets out to try to learn about the world, meeting several Australian native animals along the way, and discovering the danger to his environment and his life due to the actions of human beings. Deforestation through logging, farming, and bushfires, which are worsened by climate change and the occasional arsonist, is greatly reducing the places that are home to koalas. They are becoming an endangered species.

The production is filled with energy and enthusiasm, a high degree of physicality accompanying the text, and a good sprinkling of songs and dance numbers to negotiate. Added to that, children are a notoriously tough audience and having a small, separated crowd makes it hard to get a response. The four performers more than rose to the challenges, each of them a 'triple threat', delivering wonderful individual and ensemble performances that captivated young and old, alike. The company has created a finely crafted production that will please the whole family.

The songs have catchy tunes and, yes, there's an audience sing-along when Bill visits the frogs' school, with both the frogs and the tadpoles in the audience joining in. There's humour in the dance numbers, too. Throwing in a ukulele or two, and a cajon to accompany a few of the musical numbers, played by cast members, is a nice touch as an alternative to the offstage accompaniments.

Watching the performance on my laptop, I did find that, even with the main volume and the stream volume both at maximum, it was a little quiet, and occasionally difficult to hear snatches of the dialogue. This is just a small technical problem and will, hopefully, be corrected by the next streaming. It does not, of course, detract from the fine performance.

The production continues until 21st March, with only a few tickets left for a couple of nights, but mostly sold out, so get the family together and watch the live stream in the comfort of your own home, instead. It will be streamed live on Thursday and Sunday, at 6:40pm, and access only costs $15, which is less than the cost of a night at the cinema.


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