“Sorry, wait there – we’re fully booked.”
While these words may knot the knickers of some theatre-goers, they were music to my ears as I waited to buy a ticket to this morning’s first performance of Charlotte’s Web by PROPs Youth Theatre. Thankfully for myself and another last-minute family, several spare seats were found and we squeezed into the Old Courthouse.
For those who have read the E.B White book or seen the movie, you’ll know what to expect, and to prepare your children for the inevitable – it’s not smiles from start to finish. However, in the hands of the PROPs cast, is an incredibly enjoyable show for all ages.
This show in particular has been a massive undertaking for all involved: with final rehearsals happening between exams in the last weeks of school and with performances staged in the school holidays when most kids just want to play Pokémon cards and watch Saddle Club reruns (this wasn’t just me, right?), it’s incredible that a cast of 20-30 students all committed, and shows commendable dedication on their part.
Ava Saldana-Lopez taking on the lead role of Wilbur was excellent – and despite having an entire play to memorise, shone on stage as one of the most polished performers. Congratulations Ava on your starring role, you really were radiant and terrific. The happy-go-lucky Fern was played by Belgian Gardens State School’s Billie Tristram, who mirrored Ava’s talent: Billie showed emotions beyond her years, and held key points of the performance together.
In the titular role is a face fresh from gracing the stage with Full Throttle Theatre Company’s Summer of the Aliens: Charlotte Davies aptly took on the persona of Charlotte the spider, and gracefully so. While I can barely balance on one ladder to hang Christmas lights, Charlotte navigated between four as she spun her miraculous webs of words to save Wilbur’s life. Charlotte’s experience on stage was evident too, with great projection and expressions throughout the show.
Particular mention must be given to Anu Grace, who led the cast through musical numbers – which is no mean feat, given the number of people on stage and the amount of music performed. Anu, joined by Phion Goodson, guided the cast through musical numbers with a backing of ukulele, guitar and keys, complementing each song and giving cast members gentle assistance with timing where required.
While larger casts can be overwhelming, particularly in junior productions, the ensemble for Charlotte’s Web shone – with just a few minor out-of-time or forgotten lines that were subtly covered up or corrected, the audience is welcomed to enjoy a magical story with beloved characters many of us have grown up knowing. The roles of the sheep and lambs were both impressive and hilarious, with a choir of voices all required to recite lines in perfect time, with the braying accent of a sheep in their tone too.
Congratulations to director Madonna Davies and her cast on a thoroughly entertaining show: while myself and the Townsville Bulletin’s Ray Dickson stuck out like sore thumbs as a completely different demographic to the rest of this morning’s audience, we still walked out with smiles on our faces. Whether you have a child to bring or not, I encourage you to take a trip down memory lane and celebrate a childhood classic with Townsville’s next generation of talent.
Catch PROPs Youth Theatre’s production of Charlotte’s Web at the Old Courthouse Theatre until 16 December, with tickets available here. Audience members are encouraged to book in advance, with many performances close to selling out.