Jackie French’s much loved children’s book, Pete The Sheep has been a staple of households since its first pressing in 2004, with the story of a loveable shearer and his ‘sheep sheep’ Pete teaching children about differing viewpoints and acceptance of change. Theatre company Monkey Baa have lovingly produced a stage musical based on the story, adapted by Eva Di Cesare, Sandra Eldridge and Tim McGarry, with music and lyrics by Phil Scott and directed by Jonathan Biggins.
The story focusses on the shearing shed of Shaggy Gully and a shearer named Shaun (Oliver Lacey) who arrives, fresh out of TAFE. Boss of the shed, Ratso (Andrew James), doesn’t take too kindly to Shaun’s introduction of his pet sheep Pete (Joe Kalou), who acts much like a sheepdog except with much less grunt and far more kindness. Shaun and Pete begin to pamper the sheep with salon style treatments, forcing Ratso and his crew (including Joe Dinn) to oust them from the shed for being too radical. Subsequently, Shaun and his sheep sheep head into town to start their own sheep salon.
You can probably already tell the show relies heavily on puns and witticisms, with a top layer narrative that’s fun for parents as well as the kids. The direction is fast-paced – perhaps a little too much so for younger kids – with the show whizzing past in a brisk forty minutes.
The songs are snappy and very much within the realm of Phil Scott’s previous work on shows like The Wharf Review. However, some variety from the toe-tapping vaudeville of much of the show might allow a moment for the audience – and wonderful cast – to breathe.
The cast is strong and versatile; whipping between song and dance while playing dogs, sheep and shearers. However, one needs to question why an all-male cast was chosen. Considering women have a long history as shearers (and the sheep are female – as are many sheepdogs) a more gender diverse casting would have added deeper context, especially with the show’s core themes of diversity and acceptance.
Overall, this is a no-brainer for families looking for a way to engage little ones with live theatre and create a connection to the world of reading; and Monkey Baa are well positioned to bring theatre back after a very tough year for live experiences and community building.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Monkey Baa’s production of Pete The Sheep runs from the 6th to 17th April at Sydney’s ARA Darling Quarter Theatre. For more information and tickets head HERE.
The reviewer attended the Opening Performance on March 27th.
Header Image: Lisa Williams