My Darling Patricia’s Africa on tour...
The team draped the entrance to the Tower theatre (and curtained the stage) with brilliant, colourful bed sheets. Kids’ bed sheets emblazoned with blocks and Garfields and toys... The on-stage home was a dump. More or less literally. In radation/biohazard boilersuits the human cast members rummaged through the junk like a forensics team. (Is this a used condom I see before me?)
We were given a kids-eye view of an adults only world, presented the lower half of a groovy guy and girl in a bathroom, partying, and just the shadow of their top halves. Meanwhile, downstage, the kids (played by dolls) played. There was a plastic doll head in a toy microwave... A plastic bag over the head of one of the ‘real’ dolls... the baby of the three children.
It felt like CocoRosie Theatre: a plastic rocker turned into a Zebra. The TV doco on Africa was filled with wonderful lies: “Chips grow on trees in Africa... Be Karaoke Queen in Africa.” There was a Grace Jones-like African Queen dance routine and a copper with a wah-waahing voice, just like a cartoon.
My Darling Patricia’s excellent show Africa is back, and doing the rounds in the next six weeks -- Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart, Launceston, Bathurst and Lismore -- before a longer season at Wharf 2 in Sydney in August/September.
Doubtless, there have been some tweaks since the premiere in November 2009, but (equally doubtless) the rave reviews are still deserved. Here’s mine for the Herald Sun.
Though it is inspired by a too-saccharine-to-be-true story of German kids who decide to go to Africa to get married [news article here], this show is actually about escaping rather than eloping. Escaping from harsh reality and escaping into a fantasy world. The official police photograph of the real life German kids, aged 5, 6 & 7, shows a trio of happy and smartly-dressed kids packed and ready for an adventure. (The “sweethearts” decided to take the bride-to-be's sister along with them to be a witness at the ceremony!)
Anna-Bell, Anna-Lena and Mika in custody at Hanover station
The three children in My Darling Patricia’s show, by contrast, are shabby, neglected and a little angry. They’re puppets, actually, brought to vivid life. Two girls and a boy. The googly-eyed boy stares in fear and awe rather than wonder. He’s jittery, abused, abandoned. The girls’ mother (Jodie Le Vesconte) is single, youngish, a bit of a party-animal and keen to hook-up. The cubs, mostly, have to fend for themselves while the lioness preys. The TV is their minder.
Rather than try to relate a story, My Darling Patricia give us a 3D storyboard, a graphic novel made flesh, a physical cartoon if you like. Here is a company -- an extraordinarily inventive company -- that tailors its events to suit the content rather than the reverse. Patricia is just as likely to dance a narrative as speak it. There is an impressive commitment to design within the company, too: sound, lighting, stage and props, you name it.
The only limit is imagination... oh, and budget. Which is where Malthouse Theatre steps in. The second company in the Malthouse Theatre's residency program, My Darling Patricia -- like Black Lung before it -- is an excellent choice for this kind of investment. Both companies have responded with brilliant, risky, experimental theatre.
Africa devised and performed by My Darling Patricia. Concept by Sam Routledge. Written and directed by Halcyon Macleod. Designed by Clare Britton and Bridget Dolan. Composition and sound desig by Declan Kelly. Puppets by Bryony Anderson. Lighting by Lucy Birkinshaw. With Anthony Ahern, Michelle Robin Anderson, Clare Britton, Jodie Le Vesconte amd Sam Routledge. Commissioned and presented by Malthouse Theatre. At the Tower Theatre until November 29, 2009.
Currently at Arts House (Meat Market) until April 30, 2011. Then May State Theatre Centre of WA, Perth, May 4-7; Adelaide Festival Centre, May 11-14; Brisbane Powerhouse, May 18-21; Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart, May 25-28; Earl Arts Centre, Launceston, June 3 & 4; Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre, June 8; NORPA Lismore, June 11; Wharf 2, Sydney, August 29 to September 18.
This review was published in the Herald Sun on November 18, 2009.