December 01, 1991


devised by Magpie Theatre SA
Director: Steven Gration
Designer: Kathryn Sproul, Choreographer: Deb Batton ,
Music: Andrea Rieniets, Stage Manager: Shelley Lush
Cast: Fille Dusseljee, Francis Greenslade, Nick Hope, Kate Roberts, Mandi

Snap is a group devised project from Magpie hatched in consultation with children from Sturt Street Primary School in Adelaide. The aim was to create a work involving visual arts, drama, dance and music which, among other things, examined the theme of separation. Deliberately avoiding a linear narrative – in fact, reducing language to a minimum – the show is also designed for non-English speakers and the hearing impaired.

It is an interesting move by Magpie to meet the challenge not only of performing to the culturally disenfranchised but in re-thinking approaches to the junior primary constituency as a whole. Works for this age group are often too worthy and too wordy to hit the mark. Steven Gration and the Magpies are, creditably, willing to explore the audience response and develop it, rather than pander to it with familiar television-based grammar and concepts. Having said that, Snap reminded me a bit of that European clay animation show The Red and The Blue. In a series of short scenes the actors metamorphose from one situation to the next – squirming, bouncing, cackling, grunting, wriggling and humming as they go.

The momentum is like Fast Forward, a sketch ends when someone hits the remote, or in this case, calls “Snap”. Post-modern narrative for littlies. More to the point, Snap is shaped to make their minds bend and adapt a little, and make some new connections in the process. The opening episode has the five players, identically dressed in black singlets and speckly green overalls draped over a trestle ladder in various states of sleep. The junior primaries around the mat giggle at the snoring and the slapstick and begin to follow the permutations of activity as the actors form pairs and then, as quickly, a trio, leaving one isolated and anxious.

Among all this, the group makes music- humming, singing, or rapping on the trestle which, with double-jointed dexterity, becomes a cart or a boat or a car or a mountain as playful whim dictates. The separation theme is restated. In the midst of free play, anxiety or jealousy can strike. The cast use white boards for painting – competitively, co-operatively, angrily, contentedly. The music and chanting is cross-cultural – African, often – and the movement shifts from structured configurations mesmerically repeated to random, often slightly unnerving unpredictability.

As the forty minute piece nears conclusion one Magpie becomes a chicken, another a cat. They peck and fidget and purr and slide among the audience creating familiarity and delight when unexpectedly the cat kills the chook and the rituals of death and grieving are enacted with chants and East European choral sounds. It is an ambitious exercise which galvanised much of the audience.

The response was in many ways hard to fathom, even when the kids talked to actors at the end of the show. Some responded to the sheer buffoonery of much of it, others delighted in hearing greetings in other languages. “Hey, that’s Greek”, piped up one kid, while others repeated a spirited “Buongiorno”. How much the details of the action meant to them is unclear, which is only to say that there is a gap between the carefully constructed and articulated synopsis and what the customers made of it – a fact, if ever there was one, of any piece of theatre.

Snap marks a new departure for Magpie and it is a welcome one. Performed crisply and graciously by a vigorous ensemble the show is an imaginative beginning. No doubt some adjustments have already been made to give the piece fluency and clearer meaning and there is perhaps more to be done yet. But at the morning school performance I attended, forty bright little kids sat and watched with some amazement while five human bodies expressed the whole gamut from A to Z. And that doesn’t happen nearly often enough.

“Snap”, Lowdown,Vol.13, No.6, December, 1991.p.59

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