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BWW REVIEW: Kate Mulvany's Adaptation of Ruth Park's PLAYING BEATIE BOW Captures The Wonder And Magic Of The Time Travelling Tale

PLAYING BEATIE BOW

BWW REVIEW: Kate Mulvany's Adaptation of Ruth Park's PLAYING BEATIE BOW Captures The Wonder And Magic Of The Time Travelling Tale

Friday 26th February 2021, 7:30pm, Wharf 1 Theatre

Ruth Park's PLAYING BEATIE BOW is given an up-to-the-minute makeover with Kate Mulvany's hilarious and heartwarming adaptation of the popular novel that featured in school reading lists for many years. Under Kip Williams direction with much of the same design team behind Mulvany's earlier adaptation of THE HARP IN THE SOUTH: PART ONE AND PART TWO, this new work anchored in the Rocks region is a perfect piece to celebrate the reopening of the newly renovated Sydney Theatre Company's Wharf Theatres.

BWW REVIEW: Kate Mulvany's Adaptation of Ruth Park's PLAYING BEATIE BOW Captures The Wonder And Magic Of The Time Travelling Tale
Sofia Nolan as Beatie Bow and Catherine Văn-Davies as Abigail (Photo: Daniel Boud)

Park's story, first published in 1980, follows the unexpected journey through time by modern world teen, Abigail (Catherine Văn-Davies), a "witchy" name she adopted to try to escape her life which has been upended by her father's abandonment, and her struggle to get back to her own time. For the stage adaptation, Mulvany puts modern day Abigail in 2021, complete with hand sanitizer, masks and mentions of social distancing, and adds an element of the present echoing the past with doubling of characters. The 16-year-old misfit in antique dresses, isn't interested in the kids in her new school, favoring helping her neighbour (Guy Simon) by babysitting his young son Vinnie (Ryan Yeates), often taking him to the park near her new home in Sydney's historic Rocks area. It is through Vinnie that Abigail learns about the mysterious "Furry Girl" with close cropped hair, odd clothes and no shoes that appears to watch the children play the haunting "Beatie Bow" game even though she initially cannot see her. It is not till a fight with her mother that, seeking to get away from home, Abigail finds herself chasing the mysterious child from a corner on Harrington Street and into a world of gas lamps, horse carriages and the stench of 1873. It turns out that the "Furry Girl" is the Beatie Bow (Sofia Nolan) of the children's frightening song and Abigail finds herself taken in and nursed by Beatie's family who believe she is the stranger sent to safe their family "gift" mentioned in prophesies passed onto matriarch Granny (Heather Mitchell). Struggling with trying to understand where she is and why, Abigail only wants to get back to 2021 but the path back isnt as easy as she would hope, particularly when the dress she was wearing which she believes holds some magic is missing.

BWW REVIEW: Kate Mulvany's Adaptation of Ruth Park's PLAYING BEATIE BOW Captures The Wonder And Magic Of The Time Travelling Tale
Rory O'Keeffe as Judah, Heather Mitchell as Granny, Sofia Nolan as Beatie, Catherine Văn-Davies as Abigail and Claire Lovering as Dovey (Photo: Daniel Boud)

As with the earlier expression of HARP IN THE SOUTH PART ONE AND PART TWO, David Fleischer keeps the set cleverly simple. Window frames held by members of the ensemble, minimal furniture, an impressive web of washing lines and a repurposed square-sail form the bulk of the set design, letting the audience imagination fill build on the base items rather than trying to recreate the iconic Rocks. Nick Schlieper's lighting transforms the space from intimate scenes where the audience is looking into the Bow's "good room" to expressing the size of the waterfront settlement while changes in lighting signal the transitions between times with captivating magical motion. Music played a large role in Scottish, early Australian and maritime culture, from children's singing games like the aforementioned "Beatie Bow", to sea shanties and ballads. Under Natalie Gooneratne's choral direction classic songs and new works from composer Clemence Williams and Matthew Doyle (additional compositions) are bought to life by the cast, coloring the work beautifully.

BWW REVIEW: Kate Mulvany's Adaptation of Ruth Park's PLAYING BEATIE BOW Captures The Wonder And Magic Of The Time Travelling Tale
Sofia Nolan as Beatie Bow and Catherine Văn-Davies as Abigail (Photo: Daniel Boud)

Catherine Văn-Davies delivers a wonderful performance as the 16 year old protagonist. She captures the essence of the smart loner, disenchanted with the idea of having to keep making new friends as she is moved from school to school after her parent's split, instead opting to march to her own drum, much to her 'on-trend' Grandmother Margaret's (Heather Mitchell) disgust. She ensures that the audience sees Abigail grow from teenage skeptisim to developing an understanding of the complexities of life and love while ensuring the characterisation remains honest and realistic.

BWW REVIEW: Kate Mulvany's Adaptation of Ruth Park's PLAYING BEATIE BOW Captures The Wonder And Magic Of The Time Travelling Tale
Catherine Văn-Davies as Abigail, Sofia Nolan as Beatie Bow and Tony Cogin as Mr Bow (Photo: Daniel Boud)

As Beatie Bow, Sofia Nolan has created an amusing and endearing young ratbag of a child who, like Abigail, refuses to conform to what her elders want from her. Nolan balances Beatie's distrust and desire that the Bow's could be rid of Abigail with the loyalty to her Granny and the understanding that Abigail holds a key to the family future, expressing the confusion and conflict in the young girl's mind with an authenticity.

BWW REVIEW: Kate Mulvany's Adaptation of Ruth Park's PLAYING BEATIE BOW Captures The Wonder And Magic Of The Time Travelling Tale
Catherine Văn-Davies as Abigail (Photo: Daniel Boud)

The third major character is arguably Beatie's Granny, presented by Heather Mitchell who delivers another stunning performance as the magic infused "Spaewife" who can see through time. Mitchell has a perfect comic sensibility that has her infuse a character with a certain gravitas and then catch the audience with a well-timed quip or quirk of the eye ensuring that its clear that Granny is a complex character with many secrets that will only be revealed when she is ready. The choice to have Mitchell double as Abigail's 21st Century cat-video loving grandmother allows Mitchell to show how different the two women are, with one willing to do anything for the future of her family to the other who is self-absorbed and oblivious to her granddaughter's feelings.

BWW REVIEW: Kate Mulvany's Adaptation of Ruth Park's PLAYING BEATIE BOW Captures The Wonder And Magic Of The Time Travelling Tale
Sofia Nolan as Beatie Bow, Catherine Văn-Davies as Abigail and Rory O'Keeffe as Judah (Photo: Daniel Boud)

Other significant performances come from Guy Simon as the neighbourhood laundry man Johnny Whites and Rory O'Keeffe as Beatie's older brother Judah. Mulvany's inclusion of Johnny Whites allows the story to include a focus on 19th century Australia's treatment of the Indigenous community as the widower Whites shares his story with Abigail as they both long for family they have been separated from. Whites is a respectable and liked hard working member of the community, as represented by Beatie's father, confectioner Mr Bow making special sweets for him, contrary to the image that European Australian history has previously portrayed the families that were separated by government intervention. Simon presents Whites, who bears his own grief, with a lovely sensitivity that sees him have sympathy and compassion for the mysterious newcomer. The 18-year-old sailor Judah is presented as the calming force within the Bow household, able to pacify his father who suffers from PTSD, to entertain his younger siblings, and importantly, entrance Abigail. O'Keeffe balances the development of young love with his respect for commitment and obligation to his family making O'Keeffe's doubling of characters even more beautiful.

BWW REVIEW: Kate Mulvany's Adaptation of Ruth Park's PLAYING BEATIE BOW Captures The Wonder And Magic Of The Time Travelling Tale
Lena Cruz as Kathy and Catherine Văn-Davies as Abigail (Photo: Daniel Boud)

Regardless of whether you have studied the book as a student, watched the 1986 film, or never been introduced to Abigail and Beatie before, this production of PLAYING BEATIE BOW is a must see for anyone who has ever set foot in the Rocks. A wonderful window into the past filed with magic and folklore and strong female characters that prove with love and determination, amazing things can happen.

https://www.sydneytheatre.com.au/whats-on/productions/2021/playing-beatie-bow

Photographs: Daniel Boud

BWW REVIEW: Kate Mulvany's Adaptation of Ruth Park's PLAYING BEATIE BOW Captures The Wonder And Magic Of The Time Travelling Tale
Guy Simon as Johnny Whites (Photo: Daniel Boud)
BWW REVIEW: Kate Mulvany's Adaptation of Ruth Park's PLAYING BEATIE BOW Captures The Wonder And Magic Of The Time Travelling Tale
(Photo: Daniel Boud)

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