CHARLOTTE’S WEB Presented by: Upstage Youth Theatre Venue: Blacket Barn, Tocal Homestead, Paterson Season: Daily at 11am, until Saturday (4934 1516)  

  REVIEW

  Ken Longworth  

  THIS staging of Charlotte’s Web in a real barn lends a magic that ensures the popular children’s story by E. B. White comes very much alive.
 
  Theatre productions of Joseph Robinette’s stage adaptation invariably make an engaging place of the barn that is home to spider Charlotte and the small pig, Wilbur, she saves from slaughter.
 
  But sitting on a hay bale, wooden bench or floor mat in a rural barn while a rooster crows nearby and a brisk and sometimes loud wind blows outside and occasionally sends pieces of straw sweeping past the actors adds to the reality of the tale.
 
  The actors who play the members of farming families certainly look like they have come from the adjoining fields and animal enclosures. At the same time, though, the humanised sheep, ducks, cats and other creatures have a fairytale appearance and ambience that blends beautifully with the realistic surroundings.
 
  Unlike most barns, Tocal’s was designed by a 19th century architect, Edmund Blacket, who is primarily known for his churches.
 
  The barn, built in 1867, has elegant roof trusses not unlike those of churches, in affinity with theatrical spaces.
 
  Director Ann Croger uses the barn interior well. The animal characters, including a duck and drake and their duckling brood, have very much the movements associated with their species, and there are amusing repetitions of behaviour, such as the scrounging rat Templeton’s tripping over an entrance rope, that keep the laughs coming.
 
  The below-the-trusses placing of Charlotte’s web, in which she weaves words praising Wilbur, helps to build the dignity and warmth of the relationship between the spider and the pig.
 
  The 35 young actors, including Jenna Stevens as Wilbur, Emogen Mahony as Charlotte, Olivia Greentree (alternating with Shay Garrick) as Fern, the farmer’s daughter who initially saves runt Wilbur from being put down, Lachlan Bartlett as the ever-hungry Templeton, and narrators Georga Stewart, Ava Bell and Thomas Holle, deliver excellent performances, with lovely musical backing from harp-playing Amelia Cox.
 
  Krysten Walker-Cox’s animal heads and puppets, Veronica Keppie’s web design and construction, and costumes by Sandra Earle, Jo Hathaway and Gina Bell, also contribute to make this a farm experience to relish.
 
 
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