This immersive retelling of a children's book from yesteryear delivers a sensory experience with an important environmental and social message
Sydney’s Stalker Theatre Company, known for aerial physical theatre paired with digital projections, was commissioned by Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) last year to produce an adaptation of a classic Australian book for children, Dot and the Kangaroo. Ethel Pedley’s book, written in 1899, is the story of a little white girl lost in the bush who is befriended by a mother kangaroo. 'Mrs K' gives Dot magical 'berries of understanding' that enable her to communicate with the animals; she promises she will help Dot find her way back home, and enlists the help of the animals and birds.
In this 50-minute production, two narrators guide us through the bush with Dot, as well as providing the voices for Dot and the kangaroo, while aerial acrobats use three ropes to hang, swing and dance. The acrobatics are hypnotic, especially the balletic brolga dance, and the interactive digital projections are beautifully atmospheric. At the opening of the show the projected imagery is black and white – sort of like digital skeletons; when Dot eats the berries, they shift to full colour, fully formed, effectively conveying the opening up of Dot’s understanding.
Pedley’s book has a strong environmental message – that humans are destroying the bush and its precious flora and fauna – and that is certainly explored in this production. In contrast to the dated representation of Indigenous people in the book, however, Creature implicitly pushes the idea that Indigenous people have knowledge that is still not getting the attention it deserves. Actor Ursula Yovich, who provides the voice of the kangaroo, is seen wearing kangaroo skins, and the marsupial’s movement draws upon Aboriginal dance. The show in effect portrays an encounter between the white world and the original inhabitants, as personified by the animals.
So what did the kids make of it? A four year old in Time Out’s group was a little upset by the fact Mother K’s joey was missing (a plot point ultimately happily resolved), but loved when performers swung out over the audience. Youngsters were captivated by this show, gasping at the dramatic moments and enthralled by the physical feats. Here we have proof that kids’ theatre doesn’t have to involve toilet humour and pantomime to work – no berries of understanding required.