South Australia has been spoiled at this year’s Come Out Festival, and it’s not just the kids who’ve had all the fun.
There is a plant growing out of an old toilet at the front of the Festival Centre, three pairs of old jeans hang from the rafters, rusty bicycles form sculptures in a passage way; this is definitely not a normal week in Adelaide. It’s all part of the current festival, Come Out, which has brought together a collection of great art and theatrical gems, from far and wide, including bouncing balloons, symbolic suitcases and a witch’s warren. It is for children, of all ages, but it’s far too good for grown-ups not to go along as well.
First up was The Migration Project, an incredibly touching piece of theatre devised and written by Alirio Zavarce with the help of two Adelaide schools and the Migration Museum. The strength of Zavarce’s passion and artistic style ran throughout and this eclectic team have created an amazing space for the stories of a group of extraordinary young people to be heard and an incredibly important message to be shared.
Passing through a mock immigration, with “border patrol”, the audience (me and 80 schoolchildren) felt like aliens arriving in a foreign place; a clever scene setter to get us ready for our final destination, the main stage. As we watched, all the year 7s around me sat in total silence. I was unsure if it was the lecture about good behaviour on the bus beforehand from their teachers, the jostling from the “guards”, or the intimacy of the engagement with the performers, but no one wanted to miss a beat.
Amongst just a few suitcases and chairs, Zavarce skilfully introduces us to 11 teenagers all with their own personal stories of migration. Using simple but effective techniques, monologues interspersed with occasional film clips, music and just a few strategic props, the teenagers’ stories are brought vividly to life. All had experienced extreme hardships and heartache, some more recently than others, and all spoke in raw truths. “Don’t judge, be gentle”; “I wish we could live in harmony, happiness and peace”; “If we come together as one, we can all make things happen.” We all saw and felt what Australia represents for so many; it’s not vegemite or didgeridoos, it is freedom, equality and hope. I left holding back a tear and with a lump in my throat.
Although equally memorable, the next was something very different; The Moons a Balloon by Patch Theatre. It was Saturday afternoon and the theatre was full of small children. Although I had contributed to this mass of little people (I’d gone with three of my own) I feared it could be a kindergym style nightmare. Thankfully I was very wrong. Two performers, lots of white balloons, great music and ingenious lighting effects captured us all, young and old, from start to finish.
Unlike adults, children don’t hold back on how they are feeling. If they’re scared, they cry; if they’re happy, they laugh. And whilst they can be bribed to keep quiet with lollies and the like, they aren’t constrained by social, or theatre, “etiquette”. My six year old leant over early on and, rather loudly, said, “Isn’t there going to be any talking?” I shrugged, I wasn’t sure, but we both decided that, when you can do so much with a balloon, there wasn’t any need for words.
There is lots of playing interspersed with tenderness and delightful moments of “Tom and Jerry” type foolery; we all seemed to take something different from it. As I left, “la-la”ing the tune we’d been taught, my cheeks sore from smiling so much, I asked my boys what bit they’d liked best. They debated this all the way home; was it the swinging bit, the clever light bit, the big bouncy balloon bit? No one could decide but they all agreed with the six year old, that there must have been lots of magic dust to do something so clever. Totally inspired, they spent the next two hours in the garden blowing up their own balloons. The iPad didn’t get a look in.
Next on the agenda was h.g., a totally different piece again, brought to Adelaide from Switzerland by Trickster. Based on Hansel and Gretel, it is an “experience” of the senses, an instillation of art across nine rooms, guided by headphones and torches. It is beautifully designed and intriguing, and I was exhilarated by it, in a curious way. Director Peter Brook once commented that the joy of the theatre was arriving as an individual and leaving as an audience. Whilst this doesn’t fit for h.g., there is no doubt it is theatre. It’s not as we readily know it, but it is an exciting taste of what it could be.
It was back to a traditional theatre setting for the final highlight of my Come Out week, Random by the State Theatre Company of SA, an incredibly powerful play about a ruthless murder in London of a young man with a butcher’s knife.
This production is intense and compelling in every aspect. Masterfully handling Debbie Tucker Green’s rhythmic and poetic language, Zindzi Okenyo’s performance is outstanding. The direction is deft and precise, and the effects of stage design, sound and lights all play their parts perfectly in bringing the tragic story to life.
It all seemed terrifyingly real, not only due to the quality of the piece but also given the extraordinary coincidence of the week’s headlines. As Okenyo spoke of a makeshift memorial of flowers and teddybears to her brother on the pavement, I couldn’t help but picture the images of Lee Rigby’s shrine on a Woolwich street in London. Given this current backdrop to Random and the newsworthiness of similar crimes, the discussions amongst school groups fortunate enough to see it will undoubtedly be fascinating.
Whether real stories or fairy tales, politics or laughter, Come Out has conjured up a wonderful mix of performance and expression; it has been an inspiring week for SA, young and old, artists and audiences. And happily, there’s still a bit more left to come…