Upstage Youth Theatre presents Pete the Sheep | Ken Longworth

PETE THE SHEEP: Clarence Lawrence, Karen Lantry, Andrew Coates, Cameron Elkin and Kristian Cousins in Upstage Youth Theatre's production.
PETE THE SHEEP: Clarence Lawrence, Karen Lantry, Andrew Coates, Cameron Elkin and Kristian Cousins in Upstage Youth Theatre's production.

MAITLAND’S Upstage Youth Theatre has chosen an appropriate venue for its July school holiday production, Pete the Sheep – a barn at Paterson’s Tocal Homestead that has a sheep yard nearby.

Based on the children’s book by writer Jackie French and artist Bruce Whatley, the play is set in and around shearing sheds, with the title character a sheep which a young shearer, Shaun, uses to help round up the flocks.

The older shearers and their sheep dogs are appalled by Shaun’s actions, but the herds like the way his cutting makes them very eye-catching, and literally flock to him when he follows Pete’s advice to establish a baa-baa shop to give the animals stylish haircuts.

Pete the Sheep has been a hit for professional theatre companies since it was adapted for the stage in 2014 by Sydney’s Monkey Baa Theatre, which specialises in shows for children. That premiere production, directed by former Novocastrian Jonathan Biggins, toured to 52 venues in Australia, including Newcastle’s Civic Theatre.

Adults enjoyed it as much as the children in the audience.

The show has just been made available for staging by amateur companies, and Upstage Youth Theatre is the first to have the performing rights. It will present the show at Tocal Homestead, on Tocal Road, from July 9 to July 13, with sessions each day at 11am and 2pm.

The fast-moving comedy, which includes bright songs, runs for 50 minutes, and, while the book was intended for children aged four to nine, adults share the fun, being welcomed in the opening moments by a shearer saying “g’day ewes”, and some finding themselves interacting with the story’s sheep and dogs, as well as the shearers.

Jackie French, who lives on a farm in southern NSW, based Pete on a black sheep she had, called Dunmore. Dunmore herded the other sheep into the shearing shed in return for an arrowroot biscuit and a scratch behind his horns.

The show’s cast has adults as the central shearers, including Cameron Elkin as Shaun, Andrew Coates as the head shearer, Ratso, and Karen Lantry as his second-in-command, Big Bob. Young performers play other shearers, the sheep and the dogs, with Antoinette Harris-Payne and Kristian Cousins alternating as Pete the Sheep.

The production is co-directed by Ann Croger and Sally Wolstenholme.

While Cameron Elkin was raised in Maitland, this show is his debut in a major production by one of its companies. Now aged 25, he has had an impressive career in communicative media (see accompanying story). 

Tickets $15 (child/concession), $20 adult, and $60 for groups of four. Bookings: upstageyouththeatre.com.au.    

Elkin’s career centre stage

MAITLAND-RAISED Cameron Elkin made an impressive start before his teens in acting and backstage services. But he never appeared in a major Maitland show before heading off after obtaining the higher school certificate at Hunter School of the Performing Arts in 2010 to do a Bachelor of Communications course at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst. Since graduating with that degree in 2013, he has had an impressive career working as a television producer, while continuing to have involvement with theatre.

Elkin, now 25, was a student at Hunter School of the Performing Arts and appeared in productions by Young People’s Theatre and other Newcastle companies. He also worked offstage as a co-director and set, lighting and sound designer, and shared a CONDA Award win for the set design of a YPT show when he was just 17. After completing a bachelor of communications course at Charles Sturt University, he became a television producer, covering events such as supercar races. Based in Sydney, he has travelled to Maitland in recent months for weekend rehearsals of Upstage Youth Theatre’s Pete the Sheep, which will be presented in the July school holidays, with him as one of the main characters.

Elkin’s leadership talents have been apparent since he was a school student. At 17, he was a YPT drama tutor and school captain at HSPA, and, while studying in Bathurst, was the compere of the Newcastle public schools spectacular Star Struck in 2013. That year he also ran musical theatre workshops for Upstage Youth Theatre.