What: Badjelly the Witch
Where & when: PumpHouse Theatre, until Saturday, October 13
The baddest witch in all the world turns 45 this year, but Badjelly isn't hanging up her broomstick when there's still a legion of fans to entertain.
And in New Zealand we love to be entertained by Badjelly.
Although she flew in from the United Kingdom courtesy of much-loved comedian Spike Milligan's irreverent children's story — Milligan wrote it to entertain his own kids — the original stage adaptation is ours.
In 1977, theatre-maker Alannah O'Sullivan was editing scripts for Radio New Zealand when she was asked to adapt Badjelly the Witch. That script now holds the title of the country's most licensed play and, as of 2017, it had had more than 100 productions all over New Zealand.
Given that it's NZ Theatre Month, it's timely that Badjelly returns to charm a new generation of fans these school holidays. Tim Bray Children's Theatre Company reprises the show, using a script Bray wrote, which includes The Goon's Ying Tong song as well as a goodly number of nods toward Monty Python skits. (Milligan, of course, was a member of The Goons).
Bray, a longtime fan of The Goons and
Badjelly the Witch
encapsulates the humour they became known for: far-fetched stories, bizarre characters, surreal comedy and wordplays as well as silly sounds effects (the trombone-playing mummy in Badjelly).
His company has staged Badjelly in 2010 and 2016 and it's been one of the most popular shows. Ask him why and he sums it up in a single sentence: "It's rude, it's silly, it's nonsense and it's Spike Milligan". At its heart, however, it's still the same story about Tim and Rose, who go into a deep dark forest to look for their lost cow, Lucy, and meet a whole range of extremely weird and very wonderful characters.
It's a fairytale in the mode of classics but pulled into contemporary times, where children remain intrigued by witches but want to laugh at giants with bare bottoms which, as far as the rudeness factor goes, is about as indecent as it gets.
"I hate the term but, you know, it's packed full of really great 'dad' jokes."
Ask Tim Raby why he likes to play Badjelly — it's his second turn as the wicked witch — and he'll tell you it is sheer fun.
"It's the joy of being wicked and being able to say things like 'stinky-poo' and 'knickers' and knowing the audience is going to scream at you," says Raby. "You do have to pull it back sometimes because you don't want to scare the audience too much."
Strangely Raby, who's from the UK, had never heard of Badjelly until he came to New Zealand. The story was published in 1973 and quickly followed by an LP, where Milligan read the story while music played, but it didn't receive the amount of love from the Brits that it did from New Zealanders. Indeed, entire generations have now grown up listening to the story on the radio and seeing it performed live.
The kids will also be able to read the book again. A new full-colour hardback gift edition, complete with audio CD on the BBC Radio play, has been released. Expect to have fun explaining — or trying to — how Badjelly can turn policemen into apple trees or bananas into mice.
Other shows to see these school holidays:
Beauty and the Beast: Contemporary songs, classical music and a Kiwi hit or two provide the soundtrack to this retelling of Beauty and the Beast where the emphasis is on the fairytale's deeper themes: look beyond the superficial, dare to be different, love is stronger than hate and always believe in magic. The magic includes a gutsy heroine, sumptuous Baroque-era styled costumes and a healthy helping of humour courtesy of a cast of experienced and emerging performers. Beauty and the Beast, Tapac (The Auckland Performing Arts Centre), Tuesday, October 2-Sunday, October 19
This is modern circus spectacle brings life to the very air we breathe when two siblings journey into the unknown, transforming domestic objects into images of unparalleled beauty. Expect balloons to have a mind of their own, confetti to turn into the night sky and a gigantic canopy of silk to envelop you; then there are flying umbrellas, larger-than-life balloons, giant kites and the biggest snow globe you've ever seen. From Chile to China, Portugal to the Netherlands, Air Play transcends cultures, leaps borders and has been described as a visual poem. Direct from New York, this all-ages theatrical extravaganza lands in New Zealand for performances in Dunedin, New Plymouth, Tauranga and Auckland. Air Play, Bruce Mason Centre, Saturday, October 13 and Sunday, October 14