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Reviews/Theatre

Kim Crotty’s parenting posted from prison

24 February 2022

An astute and moving new play from regional WA tackles lousy parenting decisions, past trauma and redemption in a way that’s palatable for both kids and adults, says Claire Trolio.

The Smallest Stage, Kim Crotty ·
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA, 23 February 2022

From the depths of Dartmoor Prison in the United Kingdom, The Smallest Stage writer and co-creator Kim Crotty found himself grappling for connection with his two young children.

A failed attempt at a career in commercial cannabis production resulted in a two year prison sentence for Manjimup local Crotty, who was living in the UK at the time. But the sterile environment of a prison visit doesn’t offer ideal conditions in which to cultivate a relationship with little kids. And they don’t do so well with phone calls and letter writing, either.

So Crotty, armed with a few felt tips and some paper, turned to writing and illustrating short stories and posting them to his boys.

The Smallest Stage, which premiered at Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre earlier this month before hitting the State Theatre Centre stage as part of Perth Festival, is the story of these stories; how he came to write them, their content, and ultimately how they allowed him to connect with his kids.

Kim Crotty’s autobiographical tale is in expert hands, performed by Ben Mortley (who is also a co-creator) so earnestly that at times I forgot it wasn’t Crotty himself on stage. Mortley’s isn’t exactly an unknown face, either. But he inhabits the role so completely that every inch of the character’s pain is witnessed.

Ben Mortley performs in Kim Crotley's 'The Smallest Stage'. Pictured Mortley holds a blue socked fist up to the camera. He wears a white t-shirt and looks serious, although not aggressive
Crotty’s take is in the expert hands of Ben Mortley. Photo: Ben Yew

Mortley is joined by a cohort of audience members who have purchased an interactive ticket. A bunch of kids between the ages of 9 and 14 and their grown-ups are armed with headphones and proceed to move around the stage, interacting with Mortley and various props. Director Matt Edgerton and designer Zoë Atkinson (also co-creators) provide the space and choreography for this to happen, and it’s remarkable in its seamlessness, completely elevating the work.

Honesty is at the heart of Kim Crotty’s parenting philosophy and his decision to be truthful with his children about his lousy decisions is rammed home throughout the show. That honesty is also reflected in the creation of work that is enjoyable for both parents and children. Adult themes are communicated in an age-appropriate way but not sugar coated. The work is respectful, reverent and never condescending.

We’re not just talking drug references, but domestic violence too, as Crotty looks back on his own upbringing. It’s heavy stuff, but it’s delivered sensitively and with gold nuggets of humour to make it safe and palatable for the whole audience.

At the back of an empty stage is a stylised silhouette of a tree and a a child riding a bicycle up a slope. The child is doing a wheelie. The sky is luminous green.
Different modes of storytelling help to deliver heavy material sensitively. Photo: Ben Yew

That safety is also achieved through delicate writing combined with different modes of storytelling, some best viewed through a lens of childlike wonder. It starts with pop-up books and papercuts, includes live drawing and an overhead camera, and ends with full blown stop motion animation created by Atkinson, Steven Aiton, Matty Zmitko and Crotty’s own children, Otto and Arlen.

By speaking to a broad audience and addressing ideas of masculinity and identity in raising children, the creative team have avoided clichés and created work that’s astute and meaningful.

The Smallest Stage is a moving reflection of the fallibility of parents presented by a crackerjack team. Best enjoyed with a parent, or child, in tow.

The Smallest Stage continues at the State Theatre of WA until 27 February 2022.

Pictured top: Ben Mortley in ‘The Smallest Stage’. Photo: Ben Yew

Read junior reviewer Bethany Stopher’s review of The Smallest Stage

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Author —
Claire Trolio

Claire Trolio completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) and a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) at UWA. She writes about Western Australia for various digital and print media and owns a shop with her sister. For her, the spider swing is the ultimate in playground fun.

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