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Reviews/Perth Festival/Theatre

The Smallest Stage – a journey of love and longing

24 February 2022

Seesaw’s junior reviewer Bethany Stopher shares her thoughts on The Smallest Stage, the unconventional account of a father’s love for his children.

The Smallest Stage, Kim Crotty ·
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA, 23 February 2022 ·
Junior review by Bethany Stopher, age 15 ·

The Smallest Stage is a show that describes the infinite, unstoppable love of a parent and the importance of storytelling. Poignant, powerful and poetic, this show brings the audience (literally) into the story, and tears to my eyes.

The Smallest Stage is written by Kim Crotty and describes his life in prison. After being caught growing and selling cannabis, he was sentenced to two years in jail. This meant being apart from his two young boys, Otto and Arlie.

To face this devastating separation, and to help them make sense of this big change, Crotty began to write them short stories – 47 in total. Although the few stories that are shared with us here are witty and delightful for the children in the audience, they are laced with the deep heartache of a father missing his kids – “the unnameable ache”, as he describes it.

It truly is one rollercoaster of a ride. One moment the whole audience are laughing uncontrollably as Ben Mortley (who plays Crotty) mushes his disgusting looking prison food around his plate, unfolding the story of Snot-man, Bum Slime and the Nose Nuggets. The next, we are holding back tears as he describes his wife having to physically tear his children away from him when visiting times are over, as they wail, “Daddy! I want to stay with Daddy!” The whole experience manages to be deeply poetic, amusing and so raw at the same time.

A man kneels on a stage as he draws on a large sheet of paper with a coloured marker
Ben Mortley as the storytelling father Kim Crotty in ‘The Smallest Stage’. Photo: Ben Yew.

I am undecided as to what age range I would classify this as suitable for. It is very kid friendly in the sense of the stories and the humour that Mortley brings to the character. Props such as pop-up books and sock puppets add another dimension to the story.

However, this show contains some dark themes – the Crotty character talks of his traumatic childhood and how this has affected his life. He grew up in a household broken by domestic violence; he recalls his mother going to bed with a knife for protection and his father disappearing after a fight and not returning for 10 years.

But these references to family violence and drugs are handled in a frank, simple way, so it’s easy for children to comprehend.

The casting really makes the script come to life. Ben Mortley shines in the role of Crotty. I actually thought he was the father, and then I was shocked when I read the program! He conveys so much emotion, whether it is with his facial features, his voice, or even the way he carries himself. He fills the stage with his powerful storytelling.

One thing that makes this production unusual is the audience involvement. There is the choice of purchasing an “interactive” ticket, and parents and their children taking this option join the action on stage and wear headsets that instruct them what to do. This adds texture to the show, and must be an exhilarating experience for the participants.

I was surprised at how much this show moved me. Although I have obviously never experienced it, I felt a glimpse of the love a parent feels for their child. Crotty did everything in his power to make his sons smile, and I too was taken on this beautiful journey.

The Smallest Stage reminds us of what it is to be human; it’s breathtaking and messy and inspiring and dysfunctional. By the end I was praying that my mascara wouldn’t run.

The Smallest Stage continues until 27 February

Pictured top: Ben Mortley with some of the young interactive audience members. Photo by Ben Yew

Read adult reviewer Claire Trolio’s review of The Smallest Stage.

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Author —
Junior Reviewer

At Seesaw we believe that shows designed for children should be reviewed by children. Our junior reviewers write an honest response, in their own words. Their contributions are a vital part of the arts playground.

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