That pesky ball of black fur, Hairy Maclary, is back in a clever stage show adaptation of Lynley Dodd's much-loved series of books.
Hairy Maclary and Friends has had sell-out seasons at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Sydney Opera House, and is now making its way across the country. I took my four year old daughter to see the show at the Whitehorse Centre in Nunawading, and we had a ball.
Prior to the show, I had trouble imagining how a theatre experience could animate the wonderful stories about a cheeky dog, his gang of friends, the odd cat, and the humans that get them out of mischief. My daughter was also curious about whether there would in fact be dogs on stage. We live in the age of sophisticated screen animation, and many kids (my daughter included) regard that as the norm.
However, Hairy Maclary and Friends successfully engaged both me and my daughter by utilising traditional pantomime, catchy songs, and a troupe of what appear to be professional dancers in the roles of the animals.
Hairy Maclary and Friends, courtesy Andrew Kay and Associates
I watched my daughter's face when the Hairy Maclary and his gang first appeared on stage, and after absorbing what was happening, within minutes she was totally engaged in the storylines.
The production quickly pulls the kids into Hairy Maclary's world by introducing the pantomime device of asking for the audience's help. I won't spoil it by giving all the details away, but essentially the kids are asked to help the human characters, Miss Plum and Samuel Stone the butcher, by finding a number of items Miss Plum has misplaced. Of course, the kids quickly spotted the items as they appear throughout the show, much more quickly than Miss Plum and Samuel Stone, and each time the theatre erupted into a riot of excited children's voices as they tried to draw the characters' attention to the items.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Hairy Maclary show without the appearance of his nemesis, the irascible Scarface Claw. I have to be honest and say his stage incarnation didn't much resemble the book character, but by the time he entered the fray the kids were well and truly enmeshed into this imaginary world so they went along with it. In fact, the actor did such a good job that upon Scarface Claw's entrance, a couple of younger kids immediately started howling.
The show is structured around the central theme of finding Miss Plum's lost items, and is interspersed with musical adaptations of five of the Hairy Maclary stories. We don't have all the Hairy Maclary books so it was lovely to hear a couple of stories that we weren't familiar with. Again, in true pantomime style the kids were often invited to take part in the songs by hand actions, singing along or making sound effects, so it really was a rich experience for them. My daughter was literally on the edge of her seat at points throughout the performance. The title song is very catchy, and I guarantee it will take you a while to get the line "Hairy... Maclary...(pant, pant, pant)...from Donaldson's Dairy" out of your head. (You'll understand if you see the show!)
Children under 12 months of age were free, but I don't think they would get much out of it. It is best suited to children from about the age of 2 up to lower primary school age, when they can get involved in a story and participate in audience activities. It does also get quite loud at times during the songs, so babies may find it a bit much.
The running time is 55 minutes, which is about as much as a parent could bear, as it is quite a noisy experience.
There was also the obligatory merchandise table in the foyer but it was low-key; no hard sell, no huge banners, so I didn't feel I was running the usual 'Buy me! Buy me!' gauntlet and there were no tears.
The Melbourne season has finished, and the show is now moving to Perth. It's well worth taking your younger kids to see it.
Running time: 55 minutes, no interval
Cost: $34.90 per ticket, children under 12 months are free. Seating is allocated.
For more information about how to buy tickets for the Perth run, check the promoter's website.