Archive | January, 2013

The Small Poppies

21 Jan

I like to sit in the front row. And I usually get what I want, especially when it’s general admission. I’m fast, I’m nimble, and I’m not held back by manners.

But at The Small Poppies it was on for young and old.

I was surrounded by little people. There was wriggling. There was giggling. And there was a refreshing absence of pretension. (No comments of the “I see a lot of theatre” type. Not a single six year old sniffed anything like “I saw the 2000 production. At Belvoir. Geoffrey Rush was superb”. Whenever someone begins a comment with “I see a lot of theatre” I’m left wondering whether it’s a claim of expertise, or just a cry for help.)

Felicity Nicol’s production of David Holman’s play is high energy from the get go. I’d only just finished elbowing a five year old when I was assaulted by a cacophony of Outside Voices being used inside.

Yes, Inside.

Children love that sort of thing. And rightfully so. They appreciate there’s little point to theatre if it’s not subversive.

But David Holman’s play is not just for children. Nicol’s ensemble is superb. Playing both adults and kids, they deliver a fun and moving story of three kindergarten children and their parents.

The Small Poppies 5s

But it’s also the story of the extraordinary institution that is school – one the great experiments in human history. Universal schooling, based on the belief  knowledge should be shared equally, is democracy in action. Because we all went through it, we assume it’s natural. It’s not. It has to be made. And made right. And the play honours those who have tried to make it so.

The play is also the story of an ethnically diverse society. Set in the 80’s, the demographics might have changed, but many of the challenges remain. Rosie Lourde’s moving portrayal of Lep, the 5 year old Vietnamese refugee brought me to tears.

Multiculturalism is another of our great experiments. We struggle with it. I’m not proudly Australian. I’m not proudly anything. But watching The Small Poppies I felt we’ve had a go. There’s more to do. And the job, such is its nature, will never be complete. But we’ve had a go. We’ve used our Outside Voices.

And let’s continue to do so. Because, as kids know, that’s what Voices are for.

Veronica Kaye

The Small Poppies by David Holman

New Theatre til 26 Jan


16 Jan

Writing that evaluates theatre doesn’t especially interest me.

I don’t want consumer advice.

Audience members are not consumers. They’re co-producers.

Sure, there’s a place for evaluative writing – the recycling.

No, seriously, the place is on marketing collateral. Artists don’t want to be judged, but they’ll endure it – for the chance to convince potential audience members to co-produce. Who’s going to knock back a “Recommended”?

Reviews are our revenge on theatre. (And not just when we hate it. After all, 5 STARs is rather parsimonious, considering how many stars there actually are.)

In answer to the beautiful multiplicity of theatre, reviews offer a stern monotone. Which is why no-one takes them too seriously. Which is why I don’t write them.

They’re are a bit like trying to catch starlight in a jar.

We need to find ways to respond to art other than mere evaluation.

So what do I want from writing about theatre?


To speak truthfully is one of the lessons of childhood. But maturity has a different lesson: to listen truthfully.

To listen truthfully is to hear a voice other than your own and ask ‘In what way is this true?”

Not “Is this true?”

It is true.

But in what way?

Just as actors and writers are called to truthfulness, so are audiences.

Theatre writing that focuses solely on evaluation conceals this.

Creation is a wondrous act.

Appreciation is even more so.

Veronica Kaye

Peter Pan

13 Jan

Children need adults. And adults need children.

In a full life, reason must co-exist with imagination, knowledge with innocence, security with surprise.

This is a very quotable play. In one of my favourite lines, Peter boasts “To die would be an awfully big adventure.”

Peter Pan is a rich myth, but it’s not a universal one. (This is no criticism; the desire for universals is an attempt to contain Life, which was far from Barrie’s purpose.)

The nineteenth century’s interest in childhood coincided with the decreased infant mortality rate. Suddenly, childhood as such could be valued. No longer was it merely a dangerous period, to be gotten through as quickly as possible.

And childhood became an effective contrast to adulthood.  Just as the Industrial Revolution (eventually) decreased infant mortality, it increased the division of labour. Work, and hence adult life, came to appear dreadfully dissatisfying. Peter, asked whether he ever wants to grow up, replies no; he doesn’t want to work in an office.

This tension between childhood and adulthood is a defining aspect of our culture. It has not been so in every culture. It is the result of our privilege.

Many contemporary stories, particularly Hollywood comedies, are the stories of men who refuse to grow up. But too often these stories imply that growing up means only fulfilling expectations and becoming conventional.

Barrie’s story, however, gives a more persuasive vision of maturity. For him, growing up is caring and giving. He adores childhood imagination and innocence, but accepts they are not enough. We rightly adore children, but we cannot respect them.

I don’t want to give the impression this Belvoir production is dark just because it has depth. Far from it. It’s joyous. Tommy Murphy’s adaptation works wonderfully for both adults and children. Ralph Myer’s cast is absolutely terrific. Robert Cousins’ set is versatile and fun.

I began by suggesting this is a very quotable play. Barrie wrote Peter Pan as both play and novel. In this adaptation, Murphy takes a line from the novel and makes it the final line of the performance. Spoken by the mature Wendy, it is one of the most powerful, and shocking, in contemporary theatre.

Veronica Kaye

Peter Pan

at Belvoir til 10 Feb