Above: an ensemble moment. Below right: The Witch, played by Emma Whitefield.
Big Fish – The Musical
Book by John August
Music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Directed by Tammy Sarah Linde
Musical Director Benjamin Tubb-Hearne
Choreographer Aurélie Roque
Presented by Phoenix Ensemble
Season: 27 April – 19 May. Bookings: phoenixensemble.com.au or phone 07) 3103 1546
Magic and stories come to life in Phoenix Ensemble's latest production of Big Fish.
Marrying raw emotion, a world of mystery and pure imagination, the cast and crew captured the hearts of audiences in this big story, told in an intimate space.
Based on the 1988 novel by Daniel Wallace, which was later adapted for screen by Tim Burton in 2003, Big Fish centres on the relationship between a father and a son; and the fine lines between fantasy and reality. Now a grown adult, Will Bloom (played by Connor Clarke) tries to decipher the stories that his father, Edward Bloom (played by Nathaniel Currie), told him as a child. As he tries to remember these tales, his dad’s health starts to deteriorate and Will embarks on an awe-inspiring quest for the truth.
Big Fish easily reels audiences in with its rawness and family-orientated content. Its storyline tugs at every heart string, making it impossible for audience members to ignore any character. A story populated by witches, giants, mermaids and make-believe, it’s easy to be amused with the many glorious moments within this show.
The delicate way Phoenix Ensemble has handled Big Fish and the simplicity of the whole production is utterly delightful and a true tip of the hat to director Tammy Sarah Linde and musical director Benjamin Tubb-Hearne. The set, which was also designed by this power team, featured a huge story book that covered the back wall of the stage. As the show progressed, pages were turned and projected images set each scene.
Although there weren’t any extravagant set pieces – there didn’t need to be. The staging of the show was clever and ensured the mass ensemble could be onstage at all times; there was plenty of room to move about without sets and props taking up space. Choreographer, Aurélie Roque, masterfully instructed dance within these confines and added engaging exchanges between cast members. Chemistry oozed throughout the entire show.
Some highlights of Big Fish included the Witch’s’ rendition of I Know What You Want in The Swamp and the colourful Calloway Circus scene. Both showed off the many performers and the team behind Big Fish. In fact, during the Circus act, the ensembles abilities to commit to their characters (even if they weren’t in the spotlight) made things quite spectacular. All the actors engaged in their roles and audiences were delighted to many focal points. I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of magician Ren Gerry, who took a knot out of a scarf without touching the material!
Everyone was dedicated to their characters and that helped deliver some incredible performances. Emma Whitefield was a vocal powerhouse as the enchanting Witch, Luke O’Hagan defied gravity as the humble and earnest Karl the Giant, Bethany Warnes-Jones was sickly sweet as Jenny Hill, Chris Patrick was energetically interesting in his various roles, and Connor Clarke was resilient and uptight in his portrayal of Will Bloom.
Credit must also go to Nathaniel Currie for his stand-out performance as Edward Bloom. In this demanding role, Nathaniel really stepped up to drive the story line to completion. Another noteworthy actor was Sienna Barney, who played the Ringmasters Assistant and many ensemble roles. She proved that for someone so young she has a big career ahead of her within this industry.
While Big Fish was filled with a cast of many, the night belonged to Kellie Ireland in her motherly role of Sandra Bloom. Every time she entered the stage, she was captivating and emotionally devoted. She brought experience and wisdom in her craft and showed great versatility – especially in her standout moments Little Lamb from Alabama and, on the contrast, Time Stops. Even towards the end of the play, when she is at the Rivers Edge, her glance backwards as she exited was breathtaking and heart wrenching.
Phoenix Ensemble has skilfully handled Big Fish and the payoff for audiences is immense. A classic tale about the importance of family, dreaming and being inspired is enough for any family; all of which will be able to take away some valuable lessons after seeing this show. Just make sure you bring a box (not just one) of tissues if you’re ‘adventuring’ their way.