Reviewed by Emily Mowbray-Banks
4 November 2019
When I was asked to review Cubbin Theatre Company’s Me and My Nana within Little Andromeda’s Festival, I leapt at the opportunity to experience this pop-up ingenious theatre venue, downtown Otautahi (Christchurch).
It’s Saturday morning. Solomon (5 years young) and I gobble down homemade crepes, yogurt and maple syrup before jumping in the people-mover, negotiating the traffic, hunting for a carpark. Tick. Scoot in a panic (we’re cutting it fine for this 10 am start time) over the Avon River, to sniff out this temporary theatre venue behind Amazonita’s on Oxford Tce – Little Andromeda. Tick.
We arrive at a foyer full of very short people (as tall as my knee, mostly) accompanied by some people as tall and creased as me, and a whole lot more ‘silver’ ones. There’s a queue of buggies lined up, black, safe and serious along a wall.
These very short people are rocking a keg on the concrete floor, tipping out the contents of a toy box, making some occasional squawking sounds. The most entertaining short person is performing a Toi Whakaari-esque vocal warm up, running back and forth and rhythmically along an imaginary metre long line, ahhhhhhhing on pitch.
Amy, one of the musicians, enters the slightly squawky foyer. She’s kind. Assures all caregivers to come and go from the performance space as required. We’re directed to the whereabouts of the water closets and the change mat in oppositional corners. I can feel the parents and grandparents relax, we’re being taken care of.
There are Nanas in this audience. It’s a popular show, with practically a full house. One group of 11 (Playcentre parents?) file into the row Solomon has chosen for us, up the back.
The theatre is good. Simple. Plenty of scaffolding makes our tiered seating and the lighting rig. Plenty of lights. The technicians are sitting behind us – theatre of the transparent. Something created out of nothing, using an empty city space (amidst suave food joints) and slogging it out to bring the people of Christchurch some fresh, sometimes edgy, genuinely youthful performance. I think about what vision and joie de vivre we possess when we’re less ‘creased’ or ‘silver’.
There’s a cast of four. Women. Their colour palette of costume acts as set and props. Dressed in organic hues, cotton Ts and long pants. One in delphinium blue.
One in pumpkin. One violet. T’other leek green.
In the background sits the promise of wonder – guitars, a snare and a ukulele tucked in behind.
“My grand-ma and your grand-ma
Were sittin’ by the fire.
My grand-ma told your grand-ma
I’m gonna set your flag on fire …”
The women, colours of Nana’s garden, use their bodies for percussion and sing ‘Iko Iko’ in a horseshoe shape downstage, with edible harmonies. We’re off, on an adventure with Nana.
I think my Mum should be here. Solomon’s Nana. I think what a great show to take to schools, and to invite their Nanas, their Omas, their Nannies, their Grammies, their Grandmas, their Danis. Whanau – whanaungatanga – we value it.
Solomon is standing the entire time, leaning softly into my seated self, peering through the silver crowns in front of us. Sometimes he goes on tiptoes other times he calls out when asked for suggestions. He is enraptured. The show finishes after 35 minutes-ish and he asks, ‘Can we stay here for another one?’
Me and My Nana is a musical. There’s song. There’s dance. There’s a love story between a Nana and her moko. There’s even a poignant ending as our two musicians, Amy and Bryony, sing Split Enz’s ‘Stuff & Nonsense’:
“And you know that I love you,
Here and now, not forever.
I can give you the present,
I don’t know ’bout the future,
That’s all stuff and nonsense.”
It’s tenderly directed by Melanie Luckman with the right amount of music, puppetry, play and magic. Me and My Nana is gentle, whimsical and wholesome – everything one would want for a show designed for under 5s, including the perfect length.
The actors playing Nana and grand-daughter play with intelligence, heart and authenticity. There’s no ham or cheesiness here. Eloise Pengelly plays the grand-daughter, pitching her ‘child-ish-ness’ perfectly (a hard thing to do). Hannah Wheeler is Nana. There’s a magic moment when Nana and grand-daughter hug, in profile to the audience, and we see the immense aroha and comfort in the grins and closed eyes. We all think of our Nanas and her bossomy woolley-probably fragrant hug. I think of the therapeutic nature of the theatre, its elixir, to bring memories and love to the surface.
The songs, strums and snare of the two musicians, Amy Straker and Bryony Matthews, act mostly as a soundtrack. At times the soaring voices are so sweet we have to look beyond the actors to these songbirds. Oh to sing like that, to offer such gifts.
A pleasant surprise is the audience’s ‘heckling’. Mimicry. The character Nana coughs, an audience toddler coughs in empathy or solidarity. Nana makes a game out of turning a yellow raincoat back the right way (I want one of those mustard yellow raincoats!). Her hand becomes the hand puppet of a duck. “Quack,” she says.
“We saw a baby duckie.”
“Guck,” are some of the earnest responses.
Solomon (5 years-young) and I (much older) immensely enjoy Me and My Nana, and we’ll be looking to take Nana, Grammy or Dani next time.
Reviewed by Fiona S Giles
4 November 2019
A theatre show especially for the under-5s and their grown-ups. About spending time with nana. Could anything be cuter? Likely not.
Cubbin Theatre specialises in theatre for the very young. It shows. Before today’s performance even starts the laid-on toys and changing mat illustrates their child-friendly credentials. The audience are free to come in and out as needed (which, when you have small children, is often).
The small bare stage has only a small bench, two stools and a few instruments. Four women, in loose, comfortable clothing, colour-coded into soft shades of orange, blue, purple and green, walk on stage. The next 30 minutes or so feels like being wrapped in a warm hug on a cold day, as the performers lead us through the wonder and joy of a child and a nana spending a rainy day together. With gentle music and beautiful singing to accompany them, the pair flick through photos, eat, squelch through puddles, then meet a worm and a duck.
Amy Straker and Bryony Matthews retreat to the music corner while Hannah Wheeler as Nana and Eloise Pengelly as Grandchild skillfully evoke the warmth, care and affection of a grandparent and grandchild who love each other.
Straker and Matthews’ accompaniment is gentle, joyful and, most importantly, enjoyable both for the under-5s AND their grown-ups. Some familiar tunes, some not-so-familiar, and all apt to make you nod along with the music.
The deceptive simplicity of the language, minimal costumes and props, and gentle physical humour combine into an enchanting whole in which the senses of love, play and the joy of discovery are palpable.
Which is why the ribbon dance disappointed me. Nana pulls out a ribbon to play with and grandchild dances, absorbed. True, nanas are often repositories of fun gifts and treats, but this felt at odds with the rest of the show, dwelling as it did on imaginary play – a guitar from a stick, a duck from a hand. It was also longer than my two children’s attention span could cope with.
The little ones in the audience bounced and jiggled throughout, clapped their hands, pointed and shouted at the performers (whether they were expected to or not, as toddlers do), and the children in the front got so close they were practically in the show. It’s safe to say they were enthralled. My youngest co-reviewer, age 2, giggled and jiggled at the gumboot dance. He squealed “Duckie!” at the duck (just someone’s hand, not even a hand puppet, but that’s the point). He pointed at the pair, eyes bright, whispering “Wow!” at the visit from the worm.
In a word, entrancing.