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May 26, 2010 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Tea for Toot

Tea for Toot is the story of two old and lonely sisters, Emily (Alex Lodge) and Georgia (Cherie Jacobsen). They heavily routine based lives in Water’s Edge, the former residence of their mother Mary Waters. She was an acclaimed, prolific and now very dead children’s author. Not that Emily or Georgia would ever acknowledge the deceased nature of their mother. Residing still in the nursery they grew up in, to them mother is simply upstairs too busy to take guests or answer fan-mail.

Regularly punctuated by cups of tea, Emily and Georgia’s schedule is one of rigorously scheduled delusion. At 11, they write their memoirs and scrapbook. At 12, they have tea. At 1, they play sleeps – a demented game of make-believe where there fantasies reveal themselves to be both surreal and mundane. At 2, they have tea. Then a spanner appears in the works of their meticulously executed ignorance of the cruel facts of their existence in the form of a letter and the force of industry and reality has no choice but to force these two into action.

Toot is narrated by Rachel More very much in the mode of the books on tape that seem to accompany all memories of childhood car-trips. She comments and guides the action of the play as well as telling one of the tales of Toot, Waters’ most popular character, accompanied by some nice shadow puppets made by Hannah Smith.

The cast all acquit themselves nicely. Lodge and Jacobsen perfectly pitch the music of age to the tune of childhood. Lodge is a natural comic genius and Jacobsen has an undeniable watchability and charm. Richard Falkner impresses in a small role as a man who may or may not be Toot. He gives a case study in how well and real smaller parts can be played, as totally real, fully formed people with their own stories who happen to brush up against the one you’re following.

Ed Watson’s direction is assured and clear, even if he does let the show noticeably droop in the middle. The script was devised by Lodge, Jacobsen and Watson is much funnier than it has any right to be but tends to hide what is a very solid structure under some flabby and over long scenes with some ideas feeling rather overstated and over-emphasised.

The tone and pitch of the show is incredibly complete and consistent. Hannah Smith’s decayed, domestic set has just the right air of age about it. Rachel Marlow’s lights are, as always, very good and Tane Upjohn-Beatson and Gareth Hobbs’ soundtrack builds a very nice sense of the world both interior and exterior of the show. While the shadow puppets that I’ve already mentioned are very well made, their use in the show is rather clearly under-rehearsed and rather shambolic. This makes them substantially less effective than they could have been.

Toot‘s eccentricity is very well balanced by a deeper consideration of ideas of decay, mortality and sibling relations that run well weft throughout it.

The clear (and directly and openly cited) inspiration for this show is the life and work of Enid Blyton, especially, obviously, focussing on her daughters. Reports very heavily vary on Blyton’s mothering skills. Toot does a very good job of exploring the ideas of and around Blyton at the same time as playing a distinctly different enough game with the character of Mary Waters that one never really has to raise the question of ‘Why didn’t they just actually include ol’ Enid in the show?’ Toot is a compelling dance through the profoundly twisted aftermath of a mother who was, at best, absentee, at worst, something a lot more sinister.

Tea for Toot‘s greatest strength is its infectious whimsy. This is a nice warm mug of theatre. Designed for heart cockle thawing on cold evenings. It perfectly mixes the white noise chatter of the aged with the exuberant explosion of those permanently stuck in childhood – there is a particular delight to be taken in their very precise mispronunciation of some words. It is claustrophobic without ever being gratuitously depressing.

It is without a doubt a good show but its success is not unqualified. Its middle stretch is simply too long – mayhap they could have done with the pressure of a one hour slot rather than the 75ish minutes it is now as an hour would have been a much leaner and cleaner show – this is both an issue of pace and an issue of needing cuts. Also, the ending when it arrives becomes a little too obvious a little too quickly. But these are merely quibbles and Tea for Toot still comes highly recommended.

Tea for Toot
6.30pm / 21/05 to 05/06/2010 / BATS theatre (www.bats.co.nz)
book@bats.co.nz / (04) 802 4175

devised by full.stop.theatre
directed by Edward Watson
performed by Cherie Jacobsen, Alex Lodge and Richard Falkner with the voices of Rachel More and others

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About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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