Sunny Tribe District (Robert The Cat)
July 22 – 30
With distinctively decorated tents perimetering the New Benner Theatre, it is clear from the outset that Robert the Cat’s “Sunny Tribe District” is going to be a show full of fun. And this is before we even meet the over-enthusiastic American camp counsellors of Sunny Tribe District (Rebecca Day, Darcy Jones, Tiahnee Solien-Bowles, Peter Wood). As they emerge, dressed in their uniforms of green polo shirts, yellow waist packs and neckerchiefs, to offer us their salutations, the camp sensibility is clear (and yes there is a double meaning in that). More than just a summer camp, Sunny Tribe District (STD) is an idea, of love, laughter and happiness, much needed by the anxious and guilty sadlings of the world.
Summer camp at STD is a lake-side adventure that lasts a lifetime, its advertising suggests. We see Nick (Jedd Zachery) considering this in response to his addict mum’s worry that his brother (and founder of STD), Ken, has been out of contact for weeks following release of an article exposing the organisation’s apparent brainwashed manipulation and raising question as to it continued operation. And thus, with five days until its opening for the season, Nick’s research and search for answers leads him to responding to a new camp counsellor ad.
With Nick covertly seeking information about his missing brother and the others working to prove to the committee of camp certifiers that STD is worthy of remaining open, there are multiple plot lines operating within the 90-minute story. And there are the interpersonal relationships within the group of quirky camp counsellors. Beyond their collective friendship circles, each of the counsellors has their own method for guiding sadlings to overcome negative emotions and while they may be questionable, they are all very funny.
Kelly Celly (Rebecca Day) likes to let the music heal, Kumbaya style, thanks to her ukulele, Mr U. Kaye (Tiahnee Solien-Bowles) lets her swim instructor alter ego take charge to share the cleansing power of a water ritual and Kurt (Peter Wood) raps about finding a solution from deep within yourself.
As a collective, Robert the Cat aims to provide a showcase for performance students at TAFE Queensland, and this regard “Sunny Tribe District” definitely succeeds, especially in relation to their comic skills. Darcy Jones’ Kris, aka Daddy Nature, gives us a wonderful patter song in his explanation of how to spot and respond to sadlings having a moment. However, it is Day who is given the most with which to work as the bombastic but shady
Kelly Celly, as full of older southern woman accent and casual racism, as she is useless information about insects…. even if all is not quite as it seems. And her soulful song redos, in three bears type attempt to take us to church just right according to others’ suggestions, are one of the show’s highlights, with help (or not as humour dictates) from the show’s lighting.
“Sunny Tribe District” is high energy comedy throughout which makes its experience fly by. While exaggerated characterisation brings much of its humour, however, the show is more than just this. There are many different types of humour mashed together in the rich tapestry that supports its laughs, including pop culture references and metatheatre mentions. There is a detailed approach evidenced across the board with changed word orders, malapropisms and no opportunity ever missed for inclusion of an especially sexually-laden pun (though some are cleverer than others and the repetition of a couple of gags go on well past what is necessary). Choreography is particularly impressive in contribution to the comedy through its perfectly timed near misses and alike. And even when movement is limited the humour is still there through the sideways glances and reactions (Wood is perfection in this regard). It is this consideration behind the chaos that makes Writer/Director Patrick Mu’a’s efforts worthy of particular praise as he maintains pace throughout, without waning audience engagement.
The only out-of-place moment seems to be a performer’s Olivia Rodrigo sing-a-long, given that original number backing tracks don’t appear in other musical snippets. Still this does not detract from thhe show’s overall humour or track towards somewhere in terms of themes and its exploration of the true meaning of happiness and the role of acceptance in healing.