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Tapping fun for the kids

Utopia! And the Caravan Calamity is a new show that combines tap-dance, slapstick comedy, and gypsy jazz to present a kid-friendly tale of calamity averted. The pre-show entertainment set the scene, with wacky, interactive comedy by the ‘magician’s sidekicks’ (Taine Harding and Oliver Carroll-Collerson). The main performance centred on the travails of the Baron (Sabrina Jobst), Maid (Kristin Sparks) and Monkey (Lachlan Driscoll), whose journey toward utopia had come to an abrupt halt. With the help of the magician (Kara Fisher) and assistance (or was it hindrance?) of the magician’s sidekicks, the travellers worked to tap their way to recommence their journey.

Utopia! And the Caravan Calamity is an interesting concept, using tap dance comedy and mime to convey a story. The costumes (Rory Cooper) are sufficiently quirky (although I must admit that I thought the monkey was a bear—and our photographer felt it was a mouse), the multi-skilled Driscoll had produced a great soundtrack, and the Caravan was suitably rickety and repairable (George O’Brien).

Observatory Theatre’s co-creators Kara Fisher and Lachlan Driscoll played multiple roles in bringing Utopia! to the stage. In addition to the starring role of monkey-tap-dancing-in-a-fur-suit (quite a feat in itself), and designing the sound and lighting, Driscoll also produced and directed the show, and was one of the three set builders. Fisher both choreographed the performance and also played a cameo role as Magician. I congratulate them both on their enthusiasm, dancing skills, and creativity.

Utopia! And the Caravan Calamity is an entertaining piece of family-friendly theatre. All of the performers all did a great job in connecting with the audience, and in conveying the story through tap and mime. I imagine that the show would work well in schools/kindergartens, providing ample material to inspire merriment and post-show creativity (target age possibly 3-8?).

A unique aspect of Anywhere Festival is the use of non-traditional performance spaces (‘Performances. Anywhere’). It was certainly interesting to visit Hamilton Town Hall, but this is a space that is often used for theatre and presentations. I assume that the main stage could not be used for tap dancing but, as most of the action took place on the main floor, the layout didn’t help with being able to view the skill of the tap dancers. For a show such as this, it is clearly a better experience if you can see the quality of the tapping but, from the fourth row, I could only hear the tapping and see the effort on the dancers’ faces. I would love to have seen this show placed in a caravan park, or even a schoolyard, which would have offered more space for the audience to view the spectacle. Perhaps, in the Hamilton Town Hall, having places for the under-10s (and young at heart) to sit on the floor at the front would help them to get a better view.

Verdict: An energetic tap-dancing theatrical show for the under-eights.

Audience tip: Utopia! And The Caravan Calamity began its 2021 Anywhere Festival journey at the Redcliffe Museum (15th May, free show), with four performances at Hamilton Town Hall, Racecourse Road, Ascot (16 & 22 May, two shows on each day, tickets $25). 45 minutes. All ages. Request a seat in the front two rows if available.

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Sunday 16th May (1:30pm) show.