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Cuddling up with the bush in new musical -

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ALI MOORE: Most Australians have grown up with the tales of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Little Ragged
Blossom and the big, bad banksia men, the whimsical bush characters created by author and
illustrator May Gibbs. Gibbs' books have been adapted over the years for children's shows and even
a ballet and now, in the most ambitious theatrical transformation yet, a major stage musical.
Tomorrow night, almost 130 years to the day after May Gibbs' birth, the new musical of Snugglepot
and Cuddlepie premieres at the Sydney Festival before travelling to Perth and Adelaide. Rebecca
Baillie reports.

JOHN CLARKE: The characters are fantastic, because they're incredibly Australian, they couldn't
have been done anywhere else in the world.

REBECCA BAILLIE: It's a literary classic which has captivated generations of Australians for nearly
90 years.

NEIL ARMFIELD, DIRECTOR: I grew up with May Gibbs, with the stories. It's got these roots which go
sort of deep down into our own psyches.

REBECCA BAILLIE: The Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, by May Gibbs, tells of who little
gumnuts who go on a quest to see the big smoke and the humans who are destroying their bushland.
With modern themes, including the destruction of the environment, the books are now being
transformed into a musical for kids both young and old.

DARREN GILSHENAN, ACTOR: And the design and everything is so fantastic, it's so colourful.

TIM RICHARDS, ACTOR: It's like a playground on stage, it really is.

DARREN GILSHENAN: Not to mention we're full body nude suits with little gum leaves covering our
Barbie doll bits.

TIM RICHARDS: Cute little gum bums.

DARREN GILSHENAN: Real red shiny bums!

SNUGGLEPOT: Who'll look after us?

CUDDLEPIE: I'll look after you, and you look after me.

REBECCA BAILLIE: Grown ups Tim Richards and Darren Gilshenan star in the title roles. Both grew up
with the books, and have based their characterisation of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie on observing
their own 4 year old boys.

DARREN GILSHENAN: It's the energy, I guess, that I've got from them.

TIM RICHARDS: Definitely, and just the way they tend to move from a lower point and they tend to
topple over a bit more than we do and all that's been fun to play with, sort of carrying that over
onto stage.

REBECCA BAILLIE: While Tim Richards and Darren Gilshenan are inspired by their children, the
gumnuts' creator, May Gibbs, took her inspiration from Australia's unique flora and fauna.

MAY GIBBS, SPEAKING IN 1968: If we walked out in the bush I noticed all the little flowers. I used
to say, "This is such and such a thing, and that is something else," and give them names, and
that's how I started telling the stories.

REBECCA BAILLIE: She first drew the Gumnut Babies on postcards for soldiers serving in World War I.

RICK POOL, CURATOR, MAY GIBBS' NUTCOTE: She was an iconic figure in many ways. She was an artist
first and foremost and drawing was her life, but it wasn't until later that she actually started
writing stories about the little characters that she'd invented.

REBECCA BAILLIE: Rick Pool manages the museum Nutcote, May Gibbs' Sydney Harbour front house where
the author created Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. He welcomes the musical adaptation as a novel way to
expose May Gibbs' works to another generation.

RICK POOL: Snugglepot and Cuddlepie has never been out of print as such, but I suppose the critical
measure today is - they're all print media. There's been no animation, for example; that is a
concern. So we need to look at keeping it in the public eye.

REBECCA BAILLIE: One of Australia's most celebrated theatre directors, Neil Armfield, is
responsible for translating May Gibbs' vision to the stage. He, like countless Australians, grew up
in fear of Gibbs' big bad banksia men who try to destroy the innocent gumnuts.

NICK ARMFIELD: I remember we used to go on holidays down the South Coast into the bush and that
sense of lurking danger in the Australian bush had somehow found its - sort of nestled into your
subconscious because of May Gibbs' banksia men.

JOHN CLARKE: When I said to a lot of people this was what I was doing, a lot of them hid because
there's a bit of their mind that's still relatively terrified of the banksia men.

REBECCA BAILLIE: Ironically, the adaptation has been written by a New Zealand born Australian who
didn't read the books until he was an adult. The satirist John Clarke has cast a keen contemporary
eye over May Gibbs' early 20th century themes, ensuring this musical appeals to all ages.

BANKSIA MAN: We'll tell them we run the bush now.

BANKSIA MAN: Bush Administration.

BANKSIA MAN: Yeah!

BANKSIA MAN: Nup, wouldn't work.

JOHN CLARKE: Hopefully it's a little bit about learning how to watch a show for some of the younger
kids, but there need to be amusing things in it for people of my age and some old army gags for my
parents.

NEIL ARMFIELD: John's satire always has a wonderful kind of deadpan innocence about it itself.
Like, that's the kind of source of his humour, I think, is looking at what's going on in the world
through almost a child's eyes.

REBECCA BAILLIE: The anticipation is growing ahead of tomorrow's opening night, when many
Australians will be watching closely to ensure May Gibbs' much loved gumnuts are treated with
respect.

REBECCA BAILLIE: What do you think May Gibbs would have thought?

RICK POOL: Well, that's a very interesting question. May was very jealous of her own work and
didn't like anyone interfering with it at all, so from that perspective perhaps she wouldn't be too
happy. But then again, I think she would be delighted to know that her work is still being seen.

ALI MOORE: Rebecca Baillie reporting. And that's the program for tonight. We'll be back at the same
time tomorrow. But for now, goodnight.