Article/Review

Finding light in melancholy

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Awesome Festival review: Rachael Woodward, Valentine ·
PICA Performance Space, 1 October ·
Review by Claire Trolio ·

It’s not often that grief and loss are central themes in theatre for children, but these are the concepts at the core of Rachael Woodward’s Valentine, which premiered at PICA this week, as part of the 2018 Awesome Festival.

On one hand, Valentine is your typical children’s theatre show, complete with fairytale-like narration, mesmerising puppetry and slapstick performance style. But it’s the raw and literal way the work deals with loss that surprises. The titular character loses her grandfather and, in the process, loses her heart. It’s close to home for most adults and for Woodward as well. The character of Grandpa is an amalgamation of her own grandparents.

Brought to life through a combination of clowning and shadow puppetry, the work sees Valentine (played by Woodward) alone on stage, while Grandpa (puppeteer Rhiannon Petersen) exists as a shadow behind a curtain, along with the scenery. Petersen and Woodward perform with perfect synchronicity, like cogs in a well-oiled machine.

With bold, black and white images, and red accents, the simple set is charming. Shadows run seamlessly, and were relished by my junior companions. The show is interactive in parts, an excellent device to use in a room full of children. Comedy is another valuable resource in children’s theatre and thankfully there is humour here, too, bracketing the sorrow. As the subject matter would suggest, Valentine is really very sad.

It is Woodward’s charm on stage, however, that gives the work its punch. She captivates audiences young and old with her engagement, range of emotion and honesty, all of which are conveyed without speech.

As an adult watching Valentine, I found it heart wrenching. I was a little uneasy about how a room full of children would react when confronted with such real and intense emotion, but the young audience members drew on the happy moments. They adored the interactive elements; a simple game of catch with members of the audience was an unexpected highlight.

Despite the melancholic themes, my young friends savoured the comedy and saw the lightness in the performance. And that sums up the lesson that Valentine hopes to teach us, that shutting your heart to pain and sadness means that you also miss all the warmth and happiness in the world. We have to embrace the full spectrum of our feelings, because then we have a life worth living.

Although Valentine‘s two show run is finished, the Awesome Festival runs until October 12. 

Pictured top are Rachael Woodward and and Rhiannon Petersen in “Valentine”.

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