I was lucky enough to go along to the world premiere of the Vivien Hirschfeld Season of The ACB with Honora Lee on Saturday night. Originally published as an award-winning junior fiction novel by Kate De Goldi in 2012, it was adapted in 2014 for a radio reading by Jane Waddell. The relationship between Perry and her grandmother Honora Lee struck a chord with Waddell, and led to her creating a play from the book.
Perry does piano on Monday, after-school tutoring on Tuesday, clarinet on Wednesday and music & movement (M & M) on Thursday, at least until her teacher for M & M hurts her back and it is cancelled for the rest of the term. Perry and her Dad visit Honora Lee, his mum, in her new nursing home on Saturdays, and Perry has the great idea that she should visit Honora by herself on Thursdays. Honora has Alzheimer’s, and her mind is scattered – but with each word she loses, Perry creates a new entry in the ACB that she is writing with the old folks at Santa Lucia.
The staging, graphics and music were perfect. The first thing you see and hear is a bee, then Perry, drawing a bee in her book. The first conversation her parents have as they join her is about how many bees are around, dead and dying, this summer. The theme of bees carries through the play, as Perry and her nanny’s son Claude keep a collection of dead bees that they examine regularly.
Waddell has adapted the book extremely faithfully, down to the lines that each character says in many places. Perry’s frustration with her busy parents – “Only children must be kept busy” – was obvious through her Tourettes-like outbursts, whenever she was frustrated. Lauren Gibson played Perry extremely well, making her age clear and her showing her eccentricities perfectly. If you are reading the book in preparation to see the play, you will note a couple of discrepancies from the source, but they add to the play’s drama.
Perry’s relationship with Honora Lee (Ginette McDonald) was believable and natural, and the other characters from Santa Lucia are fantastic for adding comic and dramatic tension. I particularly enjoyed the male characters played by Nick Dunbar. The graphics of the alphabet as Perry creates it with those at Santa Lucia Nursing Home, are just right for a 9-year-old girl, and added to the story well.
Throughout the play, Perry adopts phrases from her Grandma and others around her, something I remember doing at that age (I learned “Oh My God” from my grandma). So I was amused near the end when a 9-year-old girl behind me whispered to her mum “has she passed away?”, as that is one of the phrases the adults use to dissemble the death of some of Honora Lee’s friends.
You should go to The ACB of Honora Lee if you enjoy the workings of family; if you can see the light in the dark side of life (and death) and of course, if you love Kate De Goldi’s work. It is a very special experience, and one that shouldn’t be missed. I think it is suitable for kids, those aged 7 and up would enjoy it, though older kids will understand more of the subtle humour.
Reviewed by Sarah Forster
The ACB of Honora Lee
by Kate De Goldi, adapted by Jane Waddell
Circa Theatre 40th anniversary season
Book here for: 27 February – 20 March 2016 – tickets are available as part of the New Zealand Festival
Tuesday – Saturday 6.30pm