Carnival of the Animals | 27th+28th Aug

By Anna Dowd

For Tim Maddren, watching his audience members doing snow angels in a carpet of confetti, and refusing to leave at the end of the show, is about as good a review as one can get.

A multisensory romp for the young and young at heart, Carnival of the Animals by Got Ya Back Productions takes the famous orchestral work of French composer Camille Saint-Saëns and twists it into a fantastical mash-up of music, dance and clowning – glow in the dark bubbles, giant flying turtles and confetti storms to boot.

Created and performed with his wife, contemporary dancer Steph Maddren, and award-winning guitarist Mat Brooker, Carnival is the kind of immersive, kinesthetic theatre Maddren is passionate about.

“I’ve worked in a lot television and live theatre for kids and have always seen a need for kinesthetic theatre.”

“When I was in [children’s musical group] Hi-5, we worked hard at making live shows, theatre, that was multisensory.

“Kids need that you know; to move and touch things. They don’t feel inhibited in a theatre yet like adults.”

He says the ingredients of frivolity, friction and joy were all there in Saint-Saëns’ famous musical suite, which includes 14 movements each representing a different animal. It felt ripe for a multisensory, 21st century redo.

“We listened to the music and we thought, wouldn’t it be cool to combine the music with a sort of fantasy like, swirling world. The animals and colour and all sorts,” says Maddren.

“We also loved the story that he [Saint-Saëns] forbid it from being performed until after his death because he thought its frivolity would damage his reputation. But it became famous exactly because of that.”

Before Saint-Saëns death, the music was only performed for small private audiences by a small chamber ensemble, and it’s said it was done with a kind of underground-party, edgy-burlesque flavor.

“But over time it’s become a piece you mostly really only hear in the opera house, or in big concert halls, often with a full orchestra,” says Maddren.

“We wanted to change that up and make it a theatre piece you wouldn’t experience in regional areas normally.”

And change it up they have, with technical elements including a UV lighting rig, a kit of bubble machines and glow in the dark bubble mixture, as well as a massive confetti machine, the likes of which you might see in the Sydney Opera House.

With a musical remix including drums, electric guitar and piano, the chance to make you your own paper fish and the odd splash of water, Maddren says reminding people that coming together is fun, and necessary, is also high on their priority list.

The show, designed by internationally renowned circus artist Lucy Frost, is held in a round theatre space, with lighting and special effects to make it feel like a circus tent and achieve maximum interaction with and between audience members.

At the Jetty Theatre they will take out the bottom floor to create this effect.

“We have these balls in the show, and I remember watching these two boys who had never met before rolling the ball between each other across the round,” laughs Maddren.

“The parents were saying, ‘ stop, stop, stop.’ But we totally let it happen ‘coz that’s what it’s about.

“At the end, we love seeing kids who don’t know each other making snow angels in the confetti – they can go wild, become the animals. Even better if it’s the adults too.

“That’s when we know we’ve done a good show.”

And what does Maddren think the French composer would make of their multisensory reimagining of his Carnival?

“I like to think he’d think it’s pretty cool.

“Someone once said to me that orchestras are just cover bands from 200 years ago. I think he’d be amused by our cover of his work with glow in the dark bubbles and French style clowning”

For the Maddren’s, living on the Mid North Coast and being parents themselves to a six- and two-year-old, the show is sort of a love letter to regional arts.

“We are very passionate about the fact that at Got Ya Back Productions we are pretty much one of the only regionally based production companies making original works.

“We want all kids to have access to this kind of performance experience, not just in the cities.”

WHAT Carnival of the Animals
WHERE Jetty Theatre, Coffs Harbour
WHEN Sat 27 Aug: 1pm, 3.30pm, 7pm Sun 28 Aug: 10am, 1pm
TIX $35 Memb | $31.50 Conc  | $32.5 (6-17yrs) | $25 (Under 5) $15 woopstock