‘The Rabbits’ Come to Brisbane at QPAC

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It was with oh, just a teeny tiny *yelp* of excitement (okay I screamed like a crazed librarian) that I greeted the news that ‘The Rabbits’ opera, an Opera Australia and Barking Gecko Theatre Company co-production in association with West Australian Opera, was coming to the Playhouse, QPAC in Brisbane. It’s only on for a very short season and if it is not yet sold out, I highly recommend getting yourself along to it, details are below.

17th – 20th March 2016

Playhouse, QPAC, Cultural Centre, South Bank, Brisbane

Tickets from www.qpac.com.au or 136 246QPAC

PudStar and I have just arrived home (very late – I’ve transferred her from car to bed successfully #winning) and I am still processing the deeply affecting magic that I saw tonight in ‘The Rabbits’ opera.

Nonna and PudStar at QPAC
Nonna and PudStar at QPAC

I am the first to admit that I was sceptical that any production would be able to transfer the power and the magic of this book to the stage. The picture book of ‘The Rabbits’, by John Marsden and Shaun Tan, has been one of the defining books of my teacher librarian career to date. This incredibly sophisticated, deeply moving and thought-provoking text, turned the world of ‘picture books for children’ on its head. Was ‘The Rabbits’ for children? Was it for young adults? Was it for adults? It is, of course, for any reader who connects with the story, and it was one of a number of books in the 90s that started the trend of picture books for older readers. But how this would work as opera intrigued me.

I knew, *hoped*, that it would be a visual feast, because how could it not be with the magic of Shaun Tan’s illustrations as a guide. My high expectations were well and truly exceeded and I’ve no doubt that Shaun Tan, who was not involved in the production, breathed a sigh of relief and gratitude when he saw his illustrations as moving characters and three dimensional sets. The Playhouse at QPAC really was the perfect venue. It has such an intimate feel and the audience are so close to the stage that it felt as though we were inside the pages of Marsden’s and Tan’s original book. At one point in the production, there was a yellow hued light on the stage which was reminiscent of the colours of the book and looking up at the stage was like looking at a life size version of one of Tan’s breathtaking double page spreads from the book. The marsupials costumes and body paint had the same hand shaded feel as Tan’s illustrations and a richness and depth to them that I did not think could be captured in in a stage production. The design team are no doubt immensely proud of what they have achieved.

'The Rabbits' Barking Gecko Theatre Company / Opera Australia - 2015 Production - 10th February 2015 / Photography © Jon Green 2015 - All Rights Reserved
‘The Rabbits’ Barking Gecko Theatre Company / Opera Australia – 2015 Production – 10th February 2015 / Photography © Jon Green 2015 – All Rights Reserved
'The Rabbits' Barking Gecko Theatre Company / Opera Australia - 2015 Production - 10th February 2015 / Photography © Jon Green 2015 - All Rights Reserved
‘The Rabbits’ Barking Gecko Theatre Company / Opera Australia – 2015 Production – 10th February 2015 / Photography © Jon Green 2015 – All Rights Reserved
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Photo Credit: Jeff Bushby

But of course it is not the role of the director and team to faithfully recreate the original work. In creating the book, Marsden and Tan worked completely independently, whereas the opera production was a big shared project where creatives and producers worked for over two years to bring it to life on the stage. Librettist Lally Katz has done a remarkable job in turning a less than 250 word text into an hour long libretto and it was pure wisdom on the part of director John Sheedy, to use each page of the book as inspiration for the stage scenes.

And what of Kate Miller-Heidke, who wrote the score and performed the role of the *stunning* bird narrator? Well clearly, many Miller-Heidke fans will be attending just to see her, not realising they are in for a full-bodied, rich operatic performance. I’ve always been a fan of Kate, so I was always going to gush at this point, but really…what is not to gush about? The woman is an incredible talent, endlessly versatile (classically trained soprano, pop star, singer-songwriter, opera singer), she was close to 30 weeks pregnant in tonight’s performance and she has made opera accessible to a huge audience of young and old fans alike. Clearly it’s not straight opera – a mash-up of styles really, but this is just genius really. Gush over. I really do adore the woman.

Photo credit: Toni Wilkinson
Photo credit: Toni Wilkinson

The teacher in me wants to delve into the strong links this production has to so many areas of the Australian Curriculum, particularly in History and The Arts. I would love to see a documentary on the behind-the-scenes making of this production, the research that was done and how it was decided which particular parts of history were included. We very much viewed the production as an Australian story, but it is international story and could be set in any number of countries which were colonised.  I sincerely hope that there are multiple school bookings walking through the doors of the Playhouse over the next few days and how I wish that even more students could have the opportunity to see his beautiful, inspiring, affecting production.

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She took her ‘dog’…

I really am so very, very pleased I decided to take PudStar along (did take a book in case she got bored or scared!). She sat and watched in awe, and at the after party saw Morris Gleitzman, Anita Heiss and her musical theatre teacher Annie from Music Summer School (the highlight of the night apparently!). This is a performance for young and old alike. It is a story which should be told over and over and over again in both book and opera form because story is just so important in the lives of us all.

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