The self-inflating underpants fail to blow up. The rehearsal stops. It’s not my problem; I’m just the writer.
‘The underpants inflate, almost smothering Terry’ says the line in my script. Somebody else will work out how to make them do this. There’s a team of talented, dedicated professionals in the rehearsal room, and they’re taking those self-inflating underpants very seriously.
Because creating The 26-Storey Treehouse: Live on Stage is a serious business.
It’s not a large production, designed for touring with four actors and a crew of three. But during rehearsals it’s employing set builders, prop and costume makers and publicists and when it opens it will need box office and front of house staff, lighting operators and mechanists.
Plans are in train for a national tour next year. A large amount of the producers’ and presenting venues’ money is at stake. Thousands of fans of Australia’s best-selling children’s books have already bought tickets to see the play, trusting that it will deliver the goods. We certainly don’t want to let them down. Those inflating underpants have to behave.
As they sag untidily around actor Matt Lilley’s knees, ASM Michael Rogerson fiddles with the connection on his waistband. Stage Manager Sharna Galvin re-cues the farting sound effect.
Director Liesel Badorrek calls in the cast to discuss a Plan B, deciding how the moment is to be handled should the mechanism fail during a performance.
Everything seems to be under control. The playwright can sit quietly in the corner with a cup of tea. And reflect.
It’s amazing that a particularly silly story about a 26-storey treehouse, open shark surgery, an ice-cream dispensing robot and a fearsome pirate with a wooden head can give us adults so much pleasure.
Sound designer Ross Johnstone has arranged my basic melodies into show-stopping songs, as well as sourcing the sound effects of 13 flying cats towing a pram.
Lighting designer Nick Higgins has devised a way for Captain Woodenhead to appear as a disembodied head in the Maze of Doom. Choreographer Katie Kermond has been working with actor James Lee on the actions for his role as six-armed ice-cream dispensing robot Edward Scooperhands.
Occasionally I’ll find something to contribute, adding a line to fill a dead spot or, more often, killing some of my darlings when director Liesel finds a way to ‘show, not tell’ and replaces dialogue with slapstick action.
There are serious discussions about whether it’s better to see the flying cats or to let the sound effect do the job. Should Andy defend himself against the pirate’s cutlass with a poop-scooping brush and pan, or just the pan? How are we going to show Captain Woodenhead getting eaten by Gorgonzola the giant cheese-smelling, man-eating fish?
If ever we’re brought to the brink of despair when things are too difficult, we remind ourselves that plays are play. We can fly away on the ridiculous, silly, imaginative and ferociously entertaining story given to us in the book by author Andy Griffiths and illustrator Terry Denton. You can break every rule when you live in a tree.
We laugh a lot.
We hope the audience will soon be laughing with us. And that those underpants will self-inflate on cue.
World premiere season:
Sydney Opera House, September 20th-October 5th.
In 2015 it will tour Australia.