Grug is the creation of children's book author Ted Prior, who between 1979 and 1992 wrote an extensive series of short books about the character. Resembling a heavy set Captain Caveman, Grug is apparently somewhat of a national treasure in Australia, but unknown here in the States. He'll probably remain so, even with this production, and that's a shame. They're charming, easy to read books, and the character's innate curiosity and gentle spirit speaks to people of all backgrounds. Luckily, we do have the play Grug, which perfectly captures this enjoyable personality, making it an equally rewarding experience.
In just under one hour, Windmill Theatre brings to life Grug's easily followed adventures, which seem to be taken directly from several of the books. We first meet Grug, and learn how a creature like him came to be (he grew out of the top of a Burrawang tree). We then see him learning to do new things, like build a home, play soccer, and celebrate a birthday. Though simplistic, these clear stories offer a good foundation for the real reason you'll want to see this play: the boundless imagination and perfection execution with which the tales are told.
Grug is, at its core, about imagination. The cast wears regular clothes, and use only a few important props. The set (a brilliant design by Jonathon Oxlade) looks like a brightly painted skateboard ramp, but with green carpet and a wooden tree. Beyond this exteior, however, lies the many surprises that make this show great. With this one magical set piece, along with Oxlade's puppets and three hard-working performers, we're able to see Grug build his underground home, grow a garden of cabbage, and fish for dinner at the local pond. To say more would spoil the feats of creativity on display here.
Performers Matt Crook, Hamish Fletcher, and Ellen Steele are impressive, remaining engaged throughout, but at an energy level that is calm and never pandering. Becauase of this, the spotlight, and the audience, remain focused on Grug. Composer DJ TRIP's quiet, emotive score is a nice aural backdrop for Grug's world, and Sam Haren's direction is crisp and well-planned.
Kid's may be terrible at adult stuff like cleaning and staying on task, but when it comes to imagination, they're the best. New Victory and Windmill Theatre understand this, and celebrate it with this play. In doing so, they've introduced us yanks to a delightful creature in Grug, while offering us all, regardless of age, a much needed dose of magic.