Pobby and Dingan aren’t imaginary – not to Kellyanne. She knows everything about them, from their favourite chocolate bar (Violet Crumble) to Dingan’s political views (pacifist). But Kellyanne’s brother, Ashmol, and her dad scoff at her invisible friends, though neither they, nor anyone in the opal-mining town of Lightning Ridge, Australia, are immune to the power of mythmaking and fantasy. Each day Dad digs and digs, dreaming of discovering the precious gemstones that will change his life forever. All of the mining community are fuelled by the same wish, contending with the land in a search for something they might never find. The Mysterious Vanishment of Pobby & Dingan is both earthy and ethereal, whimsical and tragic.
When Dad loses Pobby and Dingan, Kellyanne is heart-broken and convinced that they are dead; stricken with grief, she becomes physically ill. Soon, all the resentment Ashmol had for Kellyanne’s friends is replaced with a desperate desire for her to be well again, and the rest of the play charts his devoted search for them.
Travelling Light’s production is based on Ben Rice’s acclaimed novella, and follows a previous adaptation by Catherine Wheels Theatre Company in 2010. At its core, Pobby & Dingan is about family, and Finegan Kruckemeyer’s script captures the close relationship of Kellyanne (Peta Maurice) and Ashmol (Joe Hall) with one of the ultimate intimacies – shared memories. Looking back on their childhood, the siblings divide storytelling duties, contributing different bits, reminding each other of forgotten moments, and acting out everyone involved.
In many ways, Pobby & Dingan is similar to Travelling Light’s recent remounting of Into The West. Both are actor-driven with a strong script and a pared-back set that invites the audience to imagine the vivid landscapes that are central to the story. The narrative and themes also tread familiar territory: two siblings struggle to cope with ongoing crises and difficult family dynamics, in a production that explores loss and bereavement, and the role of fantasy and imagination in our everyday lives.
But Pobby & Dingan doesn’t have the same emotional tug as Into The West, and the climactic moment is underwhelming. Every part of this piece is of an extremely high quality, from Sarah Moody’s evocative compositions to the two performers impressive command of a cast of characters and yet, like Pobby and Dingan, something is missing, though what exactly that is remains illusive.
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