The story of Dani Girl follows Dani, an optimistically determined nine year-old who starts out on a quest to fight her pediatric leukemia by getting back her golden hair. Through the encouragement of Raph, her imaginary guardian angel, Dani goes on a fantastical journey, not only in search of her golden locks, but the holy grail of “Why is cancer?”
But rather than being a morbid musical about lengthy doctor’s speeches and protracted despair that writers could focus on, Michael Kooman & Christopher Dimond tackle the sensitive issue with lightness of heart and hope. In fact, the only doctors in the play were Dani and Raph pretending as they operated on her teddy bear to try and figure out what is happening in her own body.
There is as much laughter in Harvest Rain’s return production, as there are tears. This wasn’t just due to a great script, but largely the actor’s playfully bold choices. Exceptionally portrayed as the excitable guardian angel, Dash Kruck also played a vast palatte of characters including game show host/French hair stylist/German Nazi solider, Mexican drug dealer, and Darth Cancer amongst others.
The transformations were quite amazing. The song ‘Coma Land’ deserves special mention, which gave me visions of evil clowns and eerie French carnival music. I have seen Dash’s work before and had type cast him in my mind as the playfully cute and endearing funny man, because let’s face it – he is really funny. But the problem with that is a lot of the time the funny man doesn’t get the credit they deserve as a professional actor. The breadth of creativity and clever choices that Dash the actor bought to the imaginary character roles was quite impressive. After seeing him in this role, I am definitely a fan.
Playing the title role of Dani, was Heidi Enchelmaier. Her portrayal of a nine year-old with leukemia was neither dark nor indulgent. It was sweet and joyful and blindly optimistic and every song she sang was a touching bitter-sweet moment.
Shaun Kohlman was also endearing as Marty, Dani’s socially inept hospital room-mate. His voice was pure, unaffected and angelic, perfectly suited to playing a nine year old. Having the boys perspective on all this cancer stuff complimented Dani’s journey and gave even more room for imagination to bloom on stage. Shaun’s rendition of ‘Why I Love The Movies’ was naively beautiful and poignant at the same time and the few times that he and Heidi had the opportunity to sing harmonies together were just magical.
Rounding out the cast of four was Juanita Ellis-Gloster, who played Heidi’s long-suffering mother, whose role was to give the audience a reality check every so often, just to remind us there was a serious side to this fantastical story. Her solo song really brings home the pain of a helpless mother who is silently screaming inside while showing a brave unflinching face to the child she is slowly losing.
I must also mention the wonderfully brave direction of Carmen Glanville, who also was the director of last year’s original production and a Harvest Rain intern at the time. In turn I must give kudos to Tim O’Connor who had the faith and foresight to let loose a bunch of interns to tackle such a difficult subject.
The set was effectively simple, all white with two hospital beds and big Lego blocks, which were utilised for props and set pieces (including a space ship). The lighting design also added to the atmosphere and helped transport us into the character’s imaginary worlds including outer space and the inside organ’s of Fritz the teddy bear.
I have not seen anything so creatively imaginative, powerful, and moving for a long time. We go to the theatre because we want to laugh, to cry, to think, to feel. This production of Dani Girlepitomises the theatre experience and I thoroughly recommend it.