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Cheeseboy a tear-jerker for all ages

An Australian story of a boy made from cheese will take centre stage at The Banff Centre this weekend.
Stephen Sheehan and Samuel McMahon in Slingsby Theatre’s production, The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy.
Stephen Sheehan and Samuel McMahon in Slingsby Theatre’s production, The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy.

An Australian story of a boy made from cheese will take centre stage at The Banff Centre this weekend.

Making its Canadian debut in the Eric Harvie Theatre, May 21 and 22, The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy is a play created by Andy Packer and written by Finegan Kruckemeyer. Last week, the Outlook spoke with Packer in Adelaide, Australia.

“It’s a theatre show for families, adults and people aged eight to 10 and up and really, it’s a very intimate little story, " said Packer. “The experience for the audience is that they’re greeted from outside the theatre, and invited into the space by a mute character who motions them in.

“When they enter, it’s like a magic lantern tent from the 1890s, so everyone’s dressed in Victorian-era garb, and they have a story told to them about a boy trying to come to terms with losing his parents and the idea he’s alone in the world. But ultimately, it’s a very hopeful story in the end, because he realizes that he knows who he is and where he comes from and that gives him the confidence to fly off into the future and explore new adventures. "

The story was done in a very simple way, said Packer, with little bits of manipulation, puppetry, intrigue and projection.

“We very regularly have adults with tears in their eyes at the end of the performance, " he said. “That’s what (we’re) very interested in doing as a company; in telling work that is a mythorical story with multiple entry points, so that the audience takes from the story what they need to take from it, as opposed to being told what is the moral.

“It’s very much in that world of legend and myth where the story reveals itself to us, wherever we’re coming to it, whether we’re 40 or 80 or 14. "

Packer developed the idea of the story over a period of about seven years, after which he worked with playwright Kruckemeyer to write it. Then, with a team of about a dozen other artists, from filmmakers to illustrators to composers and sound designers, the play was born.

“I was inspired by three things: the work of Tim Burton, in particular a little book call the Melancholic Death of Oysterboy and Other Stories, and then also the legend of Superman and its connection to classic Greek tragedy, and then also the poetics of classic Greek stories, " said Packer. “Those ideas kicked around in my head and then the idea of gypsies, which came from falling in love with Tony Gatlif movies, fused over about seven years while I was doing other things.

“And then I realized I needed a playwright to write the actual script, and Finegan’s just an absolute poet, his language is divine. So he and I spent three days together with us reworking the synopsis. "

From that first draft, it then took about 18 months before the show finally opened.

“The idea initially came when my first son was born, and he’s just turned 10 last week, so it’s been 10 years from the initial idea to it coming to Banff, " said Packer.

While attending an event in Arizona last year, Packer was able to make his first connection with Banff.

“I was at the Western Arts Alliance in Phoenix, and bumped into one of the programmers from the Banff Centre and we got chatting and they fell in love with the show as well, " he said. “We have been very fortunate with the show, in that we’ve had the opportunity to take it around the world quite a bit. "

The Banff shows will be the start of an eight-week North American tour, with 10 performances per week. While Packer will not be touring with the production, the cast and crew will include Stephen Sheehan, Sam McMahon, Rory Walker and Roland Partis.

“This touring party have performed this in all sorts of places, including Sydney Opera House, Cleveland, New York, Singapore, Madrid, Glasgow, New Zealand, so they’ve really done quite an extensive tour of the world, " said Packer. “It’s really exciting to finally be getting to Canada. "

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