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Arts Fest Review: The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy

There Was a Young Man Made of Cheese

Review by Richard Thomson

The Tragical Life
of Cheeseboy - photo Andy Rasheed
Photo: Andy Rasheed

The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy
By Finegan Kruckemeyer, conceived by Andy Packer
A Slingsby Production
Capital E: 14–21 March, 6pm, 20–21 March, 2pm
(also appeared at regional venues 10, 12, 13 March)


It must be vexing for everyone involved, from writers onwards, when reviewers grasp for other works to use as shorthand descriptors for their production. A quick scan online namechecks Tim Burton, Oedipus, the Arabian Nights and Arthur Rackham as people struggle to categorise The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy.

Another clue is in the name of the company: Slingsby, who they claim was a "young family friend" of Edward Lear.

For me, Cheeseboy blasted off in a similar universe to the one the Little Prince lived in, as imagined by Lemony Snicket; but in fact writer Finegan Kruckmeyer upstages us all by claiming to have got the story off the queen of the Rumanian gypsies.

Adelaide's Slingsby Theatre Company say they make theatre for "the adult in all of us" but it's the children who get first class treatment, greeted by a rotund man in a top hat who escorts them down the stairs of Capital E to sit right up at the front on cushions, under a huge tent awning.

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Once everyone is comfortable (and, even on wooden benches, it felt oh so much more luxurious than being squeezed into the narrow plastic chairs in the TSB Bank Arena) the narrator finishes his meal and embarks on his story.

Are you ready to be dazzled? he asks.

Cheeseboy's story is one of the oldest: he loses his parents after disobeying them (they are turned to fondue when a meteor collides with their planet) and in the course of searching for them he grows up.

Perhaps what Lemony Snicket and the rest are struggling to say is that the old theatrical tricks – like shadow puppets, slideshows, magic lanterns and bells – really do work. Now that we're all used to digital special effects ruling our world, a simple trick like a model city in a suitcase, illuminated by little lights shining in the corners, gains added power from its ability to surprise.

There's simple brilliance in the story and the telling. And while I'm not sure I was dazzled, I was most definitely enthralled and captivated. More to the point, so was my son.

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Press releases: Special Programme for Kids at the NZIAF, NZIAF 2010 Programme to the Wellington Region
Arts Festival website: The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy
Scoop Full Coverage: Arts Festival 2010

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