After a short run at their base of operations at The Brunton Theatre last week, the opening night of Rob Evans’ adaptation of Ben Rice’s story at the Traverse last night was a poignant, funny and uplifting delight.
Ashmol (keenly portrayed by Scott Turnbull) lives in the Australian outback with his mother & father and his sister Kellyanne (a wide eyed and fragile Ashley Smith). When Pobby & Dingan, Kellyanne’s imaginary friends, go missing, Ashmol is at first delighted, believing his sister to be a ‘loon’ for clinging on to such childish things. When she gets sick and begins wasting away however, Ashmol takes it upon himself to find his sister’s companions in a desperate attempt to make her recover. He sets about enlisting the help of the motley residents of Lightning Ridge as he tries to track down the creatures nobody can see except Kellyanne.
The four-strong cast bring the family & locals of Lightning Ridge to life. Damien Warren-Smith is particularly enjoyable as the father, his swaggering opal miner bravado shot through with moments of love and tenderness for his family. Ros Sydney plays the stoic ‘Pom’ mother, but the pair truly excel when portraying the characters of the town: whether it’s the eccentric shopowner Mrs Griswald or the rough and ready miners playing pool in the town’s ramshackle bar. These performances give the play most of its humourous moments and Warren-Smith and Sydney display some excellent characterisation and timing in these roles, obviously enjoying themselves as they do so. The simple but inventive set is also well-used, portraying the family home one moment, and the scary darkness of an opal mine shaft the next.
But the relationship between Ashmol and Kellyanne is at the play’s core, and both Turnbull and Smith manage to convince as children; Turnbull, whose character also narrates the play, is particularly effective as Ashmol, his performance displaying adolescent awkwardness and frustration as he swings from exasperation at his sister to driven desperation. Smith also captures Kellyanne’s innocence, seeming to physically shrink onstage as her illness takes hold.
Pobby & Dingan is a modern-day fable about the loss of childhood and the recognition of what matters most. Catherine Wheels take this tale and add layers of poignant magic and emotion in a wonderfully staged performance that resonates with children and adults alike. Indeed, one of its most impressive feats was keeping the mostly youthful audience at the Traverse in spellbound silence throughout, as they were transported to Lightning Ridge and the potential of the power of imagination and hope.
Pobby & Dingan runs at the Traverse Theatre until Sat 6 March. Further details are on the Traverse website.