Monday, May 16, 2011

Feature: 'Hands on a touchy subject' for The Courier Mail

Written on my placement in Courier-Mail features. I adore arts writing, so I'm thrilled I got to do this piece.

16 May 2011

An innovative show shines light on child neglect, writes Anna Angel

PUPPETRY is seen as child's play for some; a comic device for others. For Halcyon Macleod, writer and director of Africa, a troubling tale of child neglect and joyous idealism in suburban Australia, it is so much more.

Playing Brisbane's Powerhouse from May 18, Africa is neither theatre for young people nor a puppet show, but a whimsical and emotional production for adults, conveying the strength of human will and the power of the imagination.

Innovative Sydney-based theatre troupe My Darling Patricia were initially inspired by both the incredible true story of three German children apprehended toting swimming gear in the dead of winter, having planned to elope to Africa, and images of Australian homes in extreme disrepair.

``With this project in particular, dealing with children who are at risk, puppets were really quite pertinent,'' Macleod said.

``There's something that the audience really understands about the vulnerability of puppets.

``They can't do anything on their own; the role of a puppeteer is really one of a care-giver.''

While Macleod muses that there ``isn't a happy ending for a lot of children in Australia'', Africa is not a wholly depressing tale.

``It is filled with the joys and wonder of play, but it also deals with troubling aspects of child neglect,'' she said.

The group co-authored the performance in early 2009 using improvisation techniques to allow multiple voices to shine through.

``My writing has a real role within that collaborative process, but it is in no way a one-man project,'' she said.

VCA graduate Macleod said they used ``bits of pieces'' of the real children in My Darling Patricia's extended family when forming the characters, but the portrayals are intentionally unrealistic.

``You do not expect to have an emotional response because the device is constantly visible, so the illusion that is being created is simultaneously being disarmed,'' she said.

``It is then quite surprising that you do respond, and you do find yourself feeling for these characters.''

Smaller adult roles are presented almost as caricatures, in the style of old-school comics and cartoons.

``We drew from old Tom and Jerry cartoons where if you saw adults, it would just be a pair of legs, saying something incomprehensible - almost like a different species,'' she said.

Former Brisbane-based actor Jodie Le Vesconte plays a single mother, who Macleod confides is the most realistically depicted adult figure.

Africa was first performed in residence at Sydney's Malthouse Theatre in 2009, and is now touring interstate for the first time with Mobile States.

Tickets to Africa are available from, priced from $22

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