The mischievous marsupial of the popular picture book comes to life on stage
Jackie French and Bruce Whatley’s picture book Diary of a Wombat is on high rotation for Australian toddlers, but you might wonder how it could be made into a stage show compelling enough to hold the attention of the littlies. The book’s main joke, after all, is that a wombat’s social calendar is pretty sparse, with an awful lot of sleeping, eating, sleeping, scratching and sleeping.
French wrote the book about her own exasperating and funny experiences living alongside wombats. Her heroine, Mothball, bored with eating grass, leaves the bush in search of a more interesting food source. Endearingly stubborn, she communicates to her chosen humans her demands for carrots by banging up garbage bins and chewing through doors.
Monkey Baa’s stage adaptation takes its lead from Whatley’s illustrations, adding a cellist who performs on stage alongside the three puppeteers/actors and provides a kind of voice for Mothball. The wombat is represented by two puppets: a small, distant Mothball and up close, slightly-larger-than-life-size Mothball. Both the design and movement of the puppet are extraordinary, perfectly capturing that lumbering wombat walk, the turn of the head, the way she plonks herself at the doorstep of her adopted humans. The wombat’s battle with a doormat that turns into a combative tango is hilarious.
Diary of a Wombat offers the kind of magical experience that every child has a right to expect in the theatre, with pared-back theatrical techniques, tight performances, design that honours the material, and great old-school puppetry. Halfway through Mothball’s performance a kid near to Time Out blurted out “it’s alive!” – which is surely what every puppeteer wants to hear.