Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Shy creature takes kids to magical world

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From Down Under, land of kookaburras, kangaroos and platypuses, comes another exotic creature called a Grug.

It's hard to tell whether Grug is a he or a she, but it is definitely a literary character made famous in a popular kids picture-book series by Australian writer Ted Prior. There are 35 Grug books and now a stage show that is making its North American debut at Manitoba Theatre for Young People before going to New York City and the rest of a five-month tour.

Grug looks like a little striped haystack with feet and a nose and is said to have began life as the top of a burrawang tree that fell to the ground. He plays soccer and cricket with his sometimes grumpy pal Cara, the carpet snake.

"His appeal is that he is a very shy but curious creature," says Hamish Fletcher, one of the show's three puppeteers from the Windmill Theatre in Adelaide, Australia. "He's scared of the big, harsh noises, but is very inquisitive about the small things in life.

"Children who aren't the loudest or most noticeable find it easy to identify with him."

The 35-year-old Fletcher compares the star of Grug to Snuffleupagus, the imposing but gentle Muppet character from TV's Sesame Street. The target audience is children one to six years of age.

The 30-minute presentation introduces Grug to youngsters on a set that depicts a cross-section of the little grass-covered hill in which it lives. Grug gets lots of presents to play with, and if the audience is lucky, he will do his dance called -- what else? -- The Grug.

"The show was not created with a message in mind," says Fletcher, who has a masters degree in puppetry from the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne. "There is a movement in children's theatre away from morality-style theatre. The message is more in the form than the content. The audience gets to learn and play with these exotic beings in this magical world."

The three puppeteers interact with their young viewers before and after the performance, even allowing them to take photographs with Grug.

Just as they are introducing new friends and experiences to local children, so are the three Australian puppeteers becoming familiar with the exotic world of Winnipeg this week.

"This is the first time I've ever seen real snow," says Fletcher. "It's around 40 C in Australia right now, so this temperature is quite shocking. Winnipeg's a real wonderland. It feels like Christmas. We never have that classic white Christmas, so everything here feels magical."

His Winnipeg to-do list is topped with the wish to go dogsledding. He is sorry that he probably won't get to do it since the troupe will be in New York when Festival du Voyageur opens later this month.

"I'm a little scared of skating for the first time," he says. "I think I will need those frames that kids push around on the ice.

"I've been trying to introduce Grug to hockey but he's a little bit frightened, too."

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Theatre preview

Grug

Manitoba Theatre for Young People

Opens Friday at 7 p.m., to Feb. 10

Tickets: $15.50 at mtyp.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2013 D4

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