Beautiful but heart-wrenching, My Darling Patricia's new play will make you marvel at how wood, rods and levers can emote.
It's not often after a play that the production manager says, half-jokingly, “I'm sure you're all devastated right now.” But this is the thing. Africa is completely devastating. Devised by My Darling Patricia under writer-director Halcyon Macleod, Africa combines puppets, actors and projection to shed light on the dark continent of domestic degradation.
Beautiful, yes. But so heart-wrenching that the puppets haunt you long after the curtain falls and they have become inert objects again. It’s impossible not to empathise with the fate of these manipulated dolls; the perfect medium to dramatise the stark disconnect between reality and imagination.
The stage is a domestic wilderness; its many levels are strewn with household debris, trashed toys, and broken appliances. The adults are played by actors, and the three children are bought to life by big-eyed, shrunken-faced puppets. There are two worlds here - the children's space, inhabited by the puppets, and the adults' domain, partly obscured by an opaque screen. The four-tiered set enables us to take on a child's perspective; in the style of cartoons like Tom & Jerry, the adults appear from the waist down. When they enter the children's space, it often pre-empts a horrific scene of verbal or physical abuse.
Perhaps there are three worlds, not two – because, of course, there's also Africa; the promised land, the longed-for place. The play is based on the story of two German children who ran away from unhappy homes to live like The Lion King. Courtney, her baby sister, and the skinny-shanked Cheety cuddle up, spellbound, before a nature documentary about Africa. It’s cute when instantly, they identify as pink flamingo, baby zebra, and ferocious leopard, but it's crushing that their happiness is dependent on the absence of adults.
Puppet shows are usually associated with comedy, but go see Africa and you’ll discover how hard the downward glance of an inanimate character can pull at your heart strings. The sound design crucially monitors the action and provides momentum as the children strive to reach their African savanna. The use of found objects allows for the staging of the patently impossible, as a giant pink flamingo rises majestically out of domestic detritus. It’s a shattering representation of endangered childhood and the quest for something better, and will make you marvel at how convincingly characters made of wood, rods and levers can emote.
Image by Jeff Busby.
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Arts & Entertainment
Friday, June 11 - Saturday, July 10
Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House