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A wild wicked world

Wicked Science is fun for its fans and cast, and it’s returning, writes Nicole Brady.

WE ARE in a science classroom, the stars of the Wicked Science children’s series are in discussion with the director and around them about 14 young extras wait in near silence for the cameras to roll again.

Producer Judith John-Story leans over to whisper that she cannot believe how focused the crew of young actors is.

"You never have to yell ‘shut up’, which you often have to do when there are a lot of extras on set," says John-Story, who also directs five of the 26 episodes.

It is a work ethic that reaches from the lowliest extra to the leads of a series that looks at teen relationships in a world where scientific concepts are tricked up into razzle-dazzle special effects. Think a giant koala a la King Kong, teens transformed into blowflies, a virtual reality visit to the wild west.

The sense of cheeky fun permeating the scripts is reflected in the good time all involved with the show seem to be having on set. Yes, it is hard work turning around so much television so quickly, but on a scale of the work on offer to young people this must rank pretty close to the top.

During a break in filming at a Deer Park warehouse earlier this year Andre de Vanny, who plays the male lead Toby, is having a ball. His first professional acting job was the role of Toby in the first series and when he was asked to return he was delighted.

All of the main characters except for actress Saskia Burmeister are back for the second series - she was too busy playing the lead in Hating Alison Ashley.

With the success of the first series behind him - it rated well nationally and screened in more than 30 countries, including Germany, Canada and the United Arab Emirates - De Vanny, 20, says he is probably enjoying himself more this time around.

"When it goes well and you do something that you’re happy with, it (acting) is the greatest thrill in the world. It’s really fun to get involved with a character and their emotions and when you’re in their head it’s really thrilling to let go and be someone else," he says.

John-Story says this exuberance is one of the joys of the series. “You never hear a word of complaint, they are the easiest and most professional bunch of people I’ve ever worked with. They love the craft of acting, they still want to learn and they are keen to keep their 

This second series fuelled by the adventures Toby and the villainous Elizabeth (Bridget Neval) get up to after they are accidentally transformed into geniuses, has given the producers, writers and actors more licence to push the boundaries.

Neval, 20, who plays the dastardly Elizabeth to the hilt, says being the villain is more fun than being the “nice” girl. “I don’t need to worry about the audience loving me, if they love me or hate me that’s fine.”

Executive producer and creator of the show Jonathan Shiff has enjoyed watching the development of his young charges. “Bridget is playing Elizabeth with more emotion, there is less moustache twirling,” he says on set.

We speak again months later, this time Shiff is on the Gold Coast where he is filming H2O, an ambitious new series about three teenage girls who also happen to be mermaids.

As one of the main television storytellers for young Australians, Shiff is reflecting and driving a key aspect of youth culture.

In the second series of Wicked Science he decided that to keep the audience’s attention and respect he needed to allow his principals to grow up a little. They are meant to be aged about 16 and so he decided the key boy-girl relationship should become more intimate.

With much consideration given to the target under-12 audience and that the show will most likely screen across the world, Shiff conjured storylines in which Toby and the show’s new teenage love interest Nikki (Matylda Buczko) occasionally kiss while Elizabeth smoulders with unrequited passion.

"You have to be careful because you don’t want a ‘yuk’ factor and if you push too far beyond the sensitivity of that age group you’ll turn them off," Shiff says.

"If you, however, put it into a false world and they don’t kiss or they don’t have a relationship then children will equally reject it as being unreal, silly, young, not credible."

As he crafts his new series, Shiff has reflected on just what the magic is with Wicked Sciencethat makes it so appealing. He believes it is the mix of teen relationships, schoolyard shenanigans and the high-tech science adventures the characters are exposed to.

"I think children love to see fantasy in the real world, that juxtaposition of kids going to high school, teachers, classes, the bell ringing, homework and then throwing into that an element of high-concept fantasy that turns everything a bit topsy-turvy."

But even if this incarnation is as popular as the first, he doubts there will be a third. A telemovie perhaps, but not another 26 episodes.

"It’s good to go out on a high, the cast are all getting older and it’s hard to play 16 forever. Also, I think the concept will have run its course and it’s time to come up with something else."

Wicked Science screens on Fridays at 4pm on Channel Ten.

October 27, 2005