Being different can be hard, especially when you’re deviating from tradition. Shaun is a new sheep shearer with some new ideas that really rock the shed and Ratso’s set ways but, together, they open up a whole range of possibilities for the sheep shearing profession.
Based on the children’s book by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley, Pete the Sheep was adapted to the stage by Eva Di Cesare, Sandie Eldridge, and Tim McGarry in 2014. But after a rocky 2020 for Monkey Baa, an old favourite is back to the stage and touring around Australia.
Shaun (Oliver Lacey) is fresh out of TAFE and keen to start shearing but he’s off on a bad foot with Ratso (Andrew James) because his sheep dog is actually a sheep named Pete (Joe Kalou). Shaun and Pete do things differently, treating the sheep respectfully and offering avant-garde hairstyles rather than the typical shear. Slowly Shaun sways the sheep and even Ratso’s trusty dog Brute (Joe Dinn) to his new ways and soon they’re operating the hottest Sheep Shearing Salon in town.
To add to the stage adaptation, the picture book is now a musical with composition and lyrics by Phil Scott. The music encompassed a range of styles from barbershop to harmonica blues and a cheeky nod to Broadway with a Cats cameo. While written for children, the lyrics were funny, catchy, and clever with wordplay and sophisticated themes. Nat Jobe’s choreography worked well to balance the blokey environment of the shearing shed with the more flamboyant characterisation of the sheep.
Jonathan Biggins’s direction is quick with clean, simple transitions between scenes and characters. At the same time, the tone of the production is light, not only because of the humour, but also because of the upbeat and positive atmosphere Biggins’s directed. The cast were tight from Ratso’s rages to Pete and Shaun’s wholesome friendship; they worked like a well-oiled machine or a particularly impressive sheep shearing team. In particular, Dinn’s portrayal of a satisfied sheep customer was a crowd favourite. Overall the cast provided solid, committed performances that are joyful to watch.
The production design created a sense of the farm lifestyle without leaning too heavily on romantic colonial tropes. The lighting design by Matt Marshall was warm against James Browne’s dynamic shed and salon set design while sound designer Kingsley Reeve injected some classic Australian bush ballads into the action.
What stood out most clearly from this production is Monkey Baa’s commitment to impressive, professional theatre for children. While elements were pared back, they weren’t simplistic; instead, the production and performances were carefully considered and robust. Perhaps most importantly, this show is funny for kids and adults alike with equal parts poo humour and quick quips about pop culture. It is worth being reminded that it’s okay to do things differently.
Pete the Sheep is running at ARA Darling Quarter Theatre from April 6th – 17th before touring around Australia until November 2021
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