It’s always daunting to adapt a novel for young people to the stage – especially one of a series of 19 about an intrepid archaeologist-cum-poet like Cairo Jim and his companions, Doris the Macaw and Brenda the Wonder Camel. It has to capture the tenor of the prose, the imagination of the author – and his outrageous puns and poems – as well as sustaining the belief of Geoffrey McSkimming’s faithful readers.
Undaunted, Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou took on the awesome task. With the blessing and support of McSkimmings, and the ingenuity of puppet maker Katherine Hannaford, she has captured all melodrama of the plot including Cairo Jim’s derring-do … his arch rival Captain Neptune Bone’s nastiness … explosions … and assorted pieces of luggage falling out of the sky!
Hannaford’s puppets – Doris, Brenda and Bone’s wicked raven, Desdemona – are skilfully manipulated by Shabnam Tavakol, Tim Ressos and Benjamin Kuryo, and are hits with young Cairo Jim fans in the audience.
As Cairo Jim, Logan McArthur uses the ploys of melodramatic heroes to bring McSkimming’s hero, Cairo Jim, to life. He declaims as he tells of his search for the lost tomb of Martenarten; poses as he dreams of his airborne heroine; despairs as he is seized by Bones and his henchmen. All are effective devices, but they do seem to slow the production down a little too much at times.
Brendan Layton is a looming presence as the scheming villain, Captain Bones, especially in his disguise as a walking mummy – but is effectively ‘foiled’ by Joecelyn Osgood and the afore-mentioned objects falling from the sky.
Kristiann Dingas brings some needed pace and humour to the production as café proprietor, Mrs Amun Rue, as do the slapstick antics of Diego AR Melo and James Stubbs Grigoriou as Bones’ silly offsiders, Kevin and Abdullah Rhampsinites. Emma Wright also brings a little humour doubling as the dust-and-sun-affected Pyrella Frith.
All the characters of the Cairo Jim series come to life in this ambitious production. It’s fun – and funny – and way over the top, just as the fans of McSkimming’s popular, poetic hero would rightly expect it to be.