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Maddigan's Quest

"A Quest for Kids' Drama"
New Zealand Herald, 23 February 2006


By:  Frances Grant

As one of the eminent New Zealanders calling for television to assume a more responsible public broadcasting role, children's author Margaret Mahy must be somewhat gratified that the medium, even in these days of full-blown commercial crassness, has managed to produce a significant dramatisation of one of her books.

Maddigan's Quest, an adaptation of Mahy's children's novel Maddigan's Fantasia, is not even showing on the charter-obligated state network, but on TV3.

Still, a home-made children's drama is rare these days--this country, once a place where the kidult drama flourished, also produces such a welter of quality children and teen books, it's a crying shame such adaptations aren't done more often.

Like those movies which have been such a boost to the tourism industry, Maddigan's Quest makes good use of the stunning New Zealand scenery.  It's hugely satisfying to see our landscape as an integral part of an indigenous production, rather than a picture postcard background for somewhere else.

At 493 pages, Mahy's book is something of an epic and the difficulties of kicking off such a tale, without the novel's advantage of getting inside characters' heads, are obvious.   The story so far has been a bit of a bumpy ride, like the rough roads Maddigan's Fantasia is travelling.

A brave band of circus folk in a post-apocalyptic world, the Fantasia leave their home, the beautiful city of Solis, ostensibly to earn money and bring "joy" to the huddled groups and towns struggling to survive after the "Great Chaos".

But after her father is killed by thugs, young Garland Maddigan discovers the circus is in fact on a highly dangerous quest to reach another city and bring back a solar converter, essential to the future of Solis, an island of light and civilisation in a dark world. Like her mother, she is determined they will succeed.

Thrown into the mix are a couple of mysterious lads with a baby sister, seeking refuge with the circus.  They are fugitives from a future Solis, hotly pursued by an evil uncle and dastardly robot-human hybrid.

Those who have read the book might have difficulty accepting pretty blonde actress Rose McIver as Garland, supposedly a fiery red-headed tomboy full of spunk and courage.

So far, McIver, isn't quite managing to convey her character's strength.  But it is intriguing to see the teenage girl fashion for the bare midriff has--like the cockroaches, presumably--come through the apocalypse unscathed.

As in many kids' movie, such as the Harry Potter franchise, while the child actors struggle somewhat to bring their roles alive, the adult actors steal the show, revelling in their larger-than-life characters.

Michael Hurst, in particular, is fantastically OTT as an evil "cyborg with a human head"-- a head which has not seen shampoo in many an eon.

And Geraldine Brophy was a hoot last week as the nasty matriarch of a band of ferals, folk who have a fair dash of orc in the bloodlines judging by the state of their dental work.

Some scenes, even by children's drama standards, require fairly hefty suspension of disbelief, such as the ferals being distracted from their hijacking of the Fantasia by a circus act which would make morris dancing with the Green Party a riveting night out.

But with 11 episodes to come, there's plenty of time for the story to hit its stride and McIver to really own her central role.  We, meanwhile, are grateful for at least one major children's drama production, despite the apocalyptic years of television dictated solely by commercial imperatives.  Not all was lost in the Great Chaos.

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