Having missed Marian Street Theatre for Young People's last school holiday season, I was delighted to attend the world premiere performance of Maya and the Sea Dragon. Maya is an original play for children ages three to ten years, by Wendy Blaxland, with a delightful musical score by Andrew Chessher.
My son and I have seen three Marian Street Theatre for Young People (MSTFYP) shows now, including past adaptations of Aladdin's Tales and Beauty and the Beast. This school holiday's run at Knox Grammar Cultural Centre, is particularly special. After many years in the planning, the theatre company has commissioned MSTFYP champion Wendy Blaxland's Maya, for its 50th Anniversary.
Talented mother and daughter - 'Maya' playwright Wendy Blaxland and MSTFYP all-star, Jessica Blaxland Ashby
Maya is the story of a young girl whose seaside visits with Grandpa lead to a magical underwater adventure. Maya meets a talking seahorse, a designer fashion loving hermit crab a geriatric, but still sparkly mermaid, and comes face to face with an ancient sea dragon, lain dormant for many years. What happens when Samsara, an ancient sea dragon awakes grumpy from many years of slumber? Well, you'll just have to come to one of the daily performances these July school holidays and see.
I've been a fan of Wendy Blaxland's story telling since her Blaxland and Daughter's Matilda Fish and the Bushranger, and Maya re-affirmed my admiration for Blaxland's play writing flair. Blaxland's craft is such that she writes tight and entertianing dialogue for children, melding facts about sea creatures and harbour preservation, with fiction, that appeals to childhood fantasies of dragons and mermaids.
Opening Day fans enjoy meeting the young cast of Maya and the Sea Dragon
MSTFYP, with its emphasis on theatre for children, by children, is high on audience participation and storytelling with music. Maya has some really beautiful original songs, which carry the story along, with memorable refrains. Once the cast and the audience are warmed up, there's no stopping them, and it is a joy for parents to watch even the youngest in the crowd being swept up in Maya's magic.
Luminous Genevieve Pratley commands the stage as Maya
Maya's cast is one of the youngest I've seen from MSTFYP and they did an admirable job. I find it hard to imagine being confident enough to command a packed theatre, without microphone, and only acoustics to aid me, at a pre-teen age. Maya star Genevieve Pratley does just that! Congratulations on an engaging debut performance.
Also strong in on-stage presence, were the actors performing the roles of Koru, a young male seahorse (Noah Upton), Stella, the elderly mermaid and titular sea dragon Samsara (Stefani Morris), and tetchy sea goddess Namaka (Aladdin's Tales alum Jo Hirsch). And one can't go past good comic relief, ably performed in this production by Charlie (Gabriella May) and yellow submarine side-kick Reg (Ruby Millner).
Maya and the Sea Dragon cast and crew photo (c/o- MSTFYP Facebook page)
One of the more scaled-back productions I have seen from MSTFYP, Maya relies on a strong story, both of entertainment and educational value, with a theme of caring for our marine environment, highlighting the beauty and the vulnerability of Sydney Harbour. Costuming is home grown but fitting to character, and there are some real gems of basic stage effects, pulled off by the novice cast, from floating jellyfish to an illuminated pearl and glowing sea dragon egg.
Atmospheric underwater themed staging from the MSTFYP production crew
The ensemble's performance holds together well and with a semi-professional run of around twenty performances over two weeks, the young company should be very proud of its achievements, guided by an experienced team of theatre professionals like Director Nate Gilkes and the aforemntioned musical talent Chessher.
It's incredibly important to expose your children to live theatre in their formative years, and if you're looking for things to do with the kids these school holidays, I highly recommend you support MSTFYP's latest production. Kids resonate with kids and you'll love seeing your children gravitate to the young cast, and wholeheartedly get lost in their adventures. And who knows, you might even find them asking to take part in one of MSTFYP's school holiday acting introduction courses.
Preview of MSTFYP's Sep / Oct school holidays show - diarise it!
Maya and the Sea Dragon is an hour and a half of good, imaginative fun for kids, and make sure you support the theatre company's work by taking home a copy of the programme and script for the bargain price of only $12. It's a beautiful souvenir from the day.