School holidays herald various activities for children – sports day camps and short jaunts to shopping malls. And for some of the lucky ones they sit in darkened theatres with parent, grandparent or carer and watch open mouthed as a story unfolds infront of them.

At the recent Australian Theatre Forum, the question was asked – what if children/youth theatre were afforded the budget (and ticket subsidy) that Operas receive? It’s a great question – after all, audience development starts at a young age and shouldn’t we be investing in our future theatre-goers/art enthusiasts?

In the world of playwriting it is very VERY hard to have a play produced – but, it seems that many of Australia’s best loved writers have been writing for youth theatre companies and for children’s shows. Verity Laughton – Nargun and the Stars, Caleb Lewis – Aleksander and the Robot Maid, Noelle Janaczewska – This Territory… the list goes on and on. And yet there seems to be very limited development time and space for plays written specifically for young audiences – and so some scripts are produced before they are developed. Perhaps I am wrong, but i don’t think I have heard of Inscription or Playwriting Australia offering opportunities to develop plays for young audiences. The problem, perhaps is that there is very little resources/time/money for adult focused theatre. However, this play has had some development – the website states:

“The Chaos Fairy had its first workshop, directed by Darren Gilshenan, in 2009, which was funded by, and presented at Riverside Theatre. This generated great interest, and a second workshop was staged at Seymour Centre in March 2010. This workshop was funded by Glen St, Seymour Centre, Merrigong and Illawarra theatres. This process unearthed some great new tunes and insights, making us all ripe and ready for the world-premiere, which will be presented this year on October 27th at Riverside Theatre in Paramatta!”

It is with this in mind that I was curious to see The Chaos Fairy by Nicholas Flanagan, during a short jaunt at the Riverside theatre in Parramatta, directed by Darren Gilshenan.

The premise is simple and intriguing – a fairy – a chaotic one at that, who lives on a planet is given one last chance to prove herself worthy of being a fairy by helping a young boy realise his dreams. If she doesn’t she’s made into a tulip. But it’s tough – she is the master of chaos; it follows her where ever she goes. And this is a tough assignment – the boy in question is talented but intimidated by an overbearing mother and trying to gather confidence after a messy divorce leaves him confused and alone.

However – there are a few things that are essential to writing for writing for the 4-12 age range. The first is – writing for a 4 year old is VERY different to writing for a 12 year old. 12 year olds may find this production a bit on the young side. The 4 year olds may not understand the concept of divorce. It’s a tricky thing to balance. Additionally the traditional concept of fairies is that they are beautiful and magical – and defy the human world – the Chaos Fairy unfortunately has a manager/restrictions just like the humans of her world. Additionally, young people have very clear ideas on what things look like – especially imaginary things – and a punk fairy is not necessarilly going to convince a 5 year old who takes her fairy wings and her fairy doll everywhere that the punk fairy is an authentic fairy.

Gilshenan does well to keep the panto style action moving along – and there is sufficient colour and movement. But unfortunately it’s the content that isn’t quite there. The songs are a little too long and many of them don’t have an easy hook to get kids up and singing. (As far as I am concerned, the aim is to get them standing up wanting to join in and singing the songs as they leave the theatre). The song that works best is Boodle Bop – which does enjoy a reprise towards the end of the show. Have a listen

The other problem is the message of the play – which is a little convoluted. I sometimes wonder about the social message of making the mum character the demon and the dad character the happy go lucky dreamer. That mum’s are bad because they like a tidy house and are responsible? Dad’s are fun even though they have no follow through. Additionally, the plot of the chaos fairy needing to solve this problem by herself without any help (in order to prove herself) is diluted when the wizard is called to solve the problem with her (why?). Also the wizard encourages the chaos – the very thing he is asking the chaos fairy to stop – a tad confusing on the message there. I also wonder why control (not chaos) wins out in the end? The mum (controlling as she is) wins out over the chaos of entering the singing competition late. Also – why can’t we see the chaos the Chaos Fairy is so good at? We want to see her power and her humour – but instead she’s trapped in obligation and is utterly unfun – surely the message of “be yourself and you can over come great difficulties” could be the message here and give great mileage to the entertainment factor?

Production wise, the performances did well to handle the material – the direction clear and fast and lively. Unfortuntately also a little confused about the design – some flat/pictorial props (ie a picture of a book instead of a real book) and some “real” props (ie an actual teddy bear not a picture of a teddy bear) were mixed up together and it was a little inconsistent.

However, a highly energetic show full of promise.