Alison Lester AM must surely be one of Australia’s most prolific and successful children’s authors. Her back catalogue stretches as far as the eye can see. Of all of those books, attempting to turn Are We There Yet? into a stage production was an ambitious choice and I’m not sure that a hugely successful result was achieved.
The book tells the story of a family of five, including three kids, who go travelling around Australia, seeing many of the country’s most iconic landmarks, including the Sydney Opera House, Uluru and the Great Australian Bight. Along the way we learn a bit about family and relationships, and the joy of making memories.
There is a lot going on, and it’s for this reason that I say selecting this particular book was ambitious.
The grandeur of the great Australian landmarks wasn’t really achieved through the wonderment of the children alone. A tiny little model opera house on top of the caravan didn’t really in any way demonstrate the awe felt by a kid laying eyes on the white sails for the first time.
One of the biggest missteps here is the age guidance. The show is promoted as being for children three years of age and older (the suggested age range for the book is two years old and above). But the story on stage is conveyed primarily through discourse. Yes, there is some imagery and some physical comedy, but the vast majority of the storytelling is in spoken word. It’s an incredibly difficult ask to engage a child of three, four or even five, for an hour in a reasonably sophisticated discourse, as deployed in the show.
The older children seemed to connect with the show better, but the younger ones were losing interest and getting ratty 20 minutes in. There also wasn’t a lot for parents in the production. It lacked some of the more amusing subtext that other shows use to great effect in order to keep parents entertained alongside their kids.
For a book that contains so much colour and life, the stage production was surprisingly lacking in vitality. With some stage productions now using techniques such as full-stage projections incorporated into performance, this show felt drab and unengaging.
The three lead actors were solid and did the best they could with the material. But there was a delight and joy missing from the audience when compared with other shows that have been staged during the post-pandemic summer.
If there is not the ability to breathe more life into this show and put it at the same level as some of CDP Kids’ other productions – such as The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom or The Very Hungry Caterpillar, all of which were fantastic – then I think at least the age range of the show should be scaled upwards towards older kids who may better engage with the production.
Are We There Yet?
Arts Centre Melbourne
Production by CDP Kids
A play by Finegan Kruckemeyer based on the book by Alison Lester
Are We There Yet? was performed from 24-28 January 2023.