Saturday, August 14, 2010

Special Delivery

Patch Theatre Company
Theatre Royal
Wednesday August 11 2010

by Stephenie Cahalan

Patch Theatre Company have an excellent track record of making engaging, intelligent theatre for children. Productions such as Sharon, keep your hair on and Emily loves to bounce have been highly successful in captivating children and adults alike, while also introducing young people to theatre.

And let's face it, theatre is such a valuable experience for children who are constantly surrounded by the world of digital images, short, sharp sequences and a maelstrom of visual and aural input. The steady pace and logical sequence of events in theatre is almost a relief for small people who don’t need as many trappings as us grown–ups to transport them to another world.
This is not to imply that children are not a discerning and demanding audience, which is why it is all the more important that theatre and performance for young adults and children is of the highest calibre. There is a risk that if you lose kids at that early stage, it is no easy task to lure them back to live productions.

Which brings me back to Patch Theatre Company, a group based in South Australia that tours their productions extensively around Australia and brought Special Delivery to Hobart last week. Two actors, a Foley artist making sound effects to help tell the story instead of dialogue, and a stage full of boxes and newspaper were the simple ingredients for a rich and satisfying serving. Writers Greg Cousins and Jane Leicester, and director Dave Brown, mixed mime, magic, puppetry and clowning to tell the story of a delivery man who finds a friend in the boxes he delivers every day. Actors Stephen Sheehan and Emily Hunt held the audience transfixed as they grappled, played and danced with their simple cardboard props. The music and sound score, written and performed on-stage by Catherine Oates, was the icing on the cake for its artful simplicity and effectiveness in conveying the fun and emotion of the story. The whistles, crackling paper, a tambourine and some funny, unintelligible voices was reminiscent of old radio plays.

I have done the rounds of live performances for children ranging from kiddie pop-culture shows like Bob the Builder and Hi-5, to the Baby Proms at the Sydney Opera House. The most effective find the right combination of a digestible story with lots to look at, in a length of time that the youngest or the most restless of patrons can endure. In my experience, many productions go on for too long, perhaps not taking into account that for younger people the excitement starts well before they sit in their seats; that extra ten minutes can push them too far. Special Delivery ran at just under one hour, which is a stretch for children at 5.30pm mid-week, so it is testimony to the great quality of the show that it did not end in tears, but in squeals of delight.

Ultimately, it does not matter what I thought of the production because the most critical audience was the four to eight years-olds, and they loved it.

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