Snugglepot and Cuddlepie are being given a 1920s underworld look, writes
When costume designer Matthew Aberline joined the team behind the new stage adaptation of May Gibbs’s beloved book The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, he had several conceptual obstacles to overcome.
“Firstly, I didn’t grow up reading May Gibbs,” he says while arranging a costume on a mannequin in the rehearsal space under Sydney’s Seymour Centre. “And secondly, when I looked at Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and saw how pretty they were, I just assumed they were girls.”
Nevertheless, it didn’t take long for the Sydney-based designer, 41, to conceive his aesthetic for this new children’s production of the famous male gumnut babies ahead of its June 27 premiere at the Sydney Opera House.
But his inspiration came from a book far removed from illustrated children’s classics: he cites City of Shadows, the 2007 book by crime writer Peter Doyle that featured police photography of Sydney’s underworld figures between the wars, as a key influence. (This is not as unusual as it may seem: many fashion industry figures, including Karl Lagerfeld, reportedly have been inspired by the book.)
“The 1920s just seemed like a really elegant way to approach this aesthetic; it gives the feeling of being a little old-fashioned and a bit lost in time — but somehow on-trend,” Aberline says. “We definitely started off really arty, and having identified what the so-called real people looked like, we felt ready to make some fun costumes for children.” compelled to write. Already there is a stockpile of material from the Short Movie sessions and songs written since then, a few of which we might hear on the Australian tour, she says.
“Maybe as I get older I’m getting better at it,” she says with a giggle. “I write most of the time. I guess I’m always doing something that relates to songwriting in some way.”
One of those contributing factors outside of her recording and stage career, in a roundabout fashion, is acting, or at least appearing on screen. To add to her mantelpiece of music awards, Marling recently took ownership of a best actress trophy.
The English folk diva did this by appearing in
June 20-21, 2015
The play’s script by Eva Di Cesare, Sandra Eldridge and Tim McGarry from Monkey Baa Theatre Company is abridged from the book, which has not only been in print continuously since 1918 but still sells a formidable 20,000 copies a year. It also features several narrative additions from Gibbs’s other gumnut baby stories.
The play follows Snugglepot and Cuddlepie on their quest to see a human, and features characters including Professor Kookaburra, Mrs Snake, the Banksia Men and Little Ragged Blossom.
“I got strangely obsessed with this,” Aberline says, fluffing the latter character’s skirt, which took him three days to make. Like every outfit that touches an actor’s skin, it has been made in triplicate to withstand the 38-venue national tour slated for next year. “The textures are very weathered, and lots of subtle painting has gone a movie lasting seven minutes, called Woman Driver, in which she plays a mysterious woman travelling through the desert with her guitar and a companion, for the duration of which she says very little.
The film, an entry in the US’s 72-Hour National Film Challenge, was shot by US filmmaker Chris Perkel in Texas in 2013 and screened at the London Film Festival earlier this year. It doesn’t reveal Marling as the next Meryl Streep, but it does have pointers to the latest of her musical creations. One of the songs from Short Movie, Walk Alone, features in the film alongside two other Marling compositions.
The singer laughs at the suggestion of being inundated with acting offers on the strength of her film debut, but admits she enjoyed the pro- into this; I just kept adding more lace and more ruffles,” he says.
The actors have had almost all of Aberline’s costumes since day one of rehearsals, which he says is a mixed blessing.
“They now take them a bit for granted, there have been requests for things to be changed a thousand times, but it also means the costumes have influenced the characters’ shapes from the absolute beginning.”
The show’s director, Susanna Dowling, also missed out on Gibbs’s books as a child, but for a good reason: she grew up in Ireland. She argues this has been an asset in being able to see the story with fresh eyes.
“The fact that I didn’t grow up with the book means I can be a six-year-old and say ‘Who is Mr Lizard?’ and ‘What is a Lilly Pilly?’ ” she says. cess of making the short film and contributing to the soundtrack.
“It’s like being in the studio or something,” she says of the experience. “It’s uniting.”
Marling arrived as an artist at a point when the music industry was — and still is — going through a technological and cultural renaissance, where the old ways of producing and promoting music were being (and continue to be) reinvented on a daily basis. As a modern-day Joni Mitchell, however, Marling is an example of how a young artist with an album-oriented career can survive and prosper in an industry increasingly obsessed with instant and disposable gratification. She’s happy with this, to take folk music into the 21st century as best she can.
“We’re all in it together,” she says. “It’s like
“The first time I heard of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie was when I saw the Belvoir musical production in 2007, and without prior knowledge, it didn’t make any sense to me at all, which I found interesting.”
One of the key differences between the show and the book reflects how attitudes to parenting, learning and play have changed in the past 100 years.
“The language in the book is dense — those books were meant to be read to children, not by children,” she says. “Nowadays books for children are constructed quite differently: they are textually simpler, and the kids are much more involved in the book and the telling of the story. “And so the emphasis in the show is on play.” While the story is ostensibly about selfdiscovery, growing up and finding your courage, Dowling says Australia’s unique environment is the secret to the success of Gibbs’s books.
“One of the amazing things to me about this country is how nature is just everywhere — it’s in my bedroom — and it’s not afraid of me,” she says.
“What’s really exciting about this play is sparking the imaginations of children about the world around them; you get into the stories, meet these characters, and the next day you go for a walk and find gumnuts or a ragged blossom, and the story stays with you.” all industries. We all have to function within it. Even the people on the other side of the industry want it to be better. I joined the music industry just as it was beginning its struggle. Now there is a generation of people with a genuine love of music who are trying to find a new way to make it work.
“I’m happy for people to hear my music in any way they want and I think people should have as much access to music as they can.”
Costume designer Matthew Aberline, left, with director Susanna Dowling; below, conceptual drawings by Aberline and making the costumes