Packed with plenty of First Nations humour, Hide the Dog is a beautifully written and performed story for the whole family to enjoy, says new Seesaw Magazine writer Casey Mulder.
Hide the Dog, Nathan Maynard and Jamie McCaskill
Dolphin Theatre, UWA, 1 March 2023
There’s something about entering a theatre with throngs of excited children and teenagers, that quickly shifts your focus from the events of the day to the here and now. As the lights dimmed for the opening night of Hide the Dog, the anticipation was palpable amongst adults and children alike.
Commissioned by Perth Festival, and presented in association with Yirra Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company, Hide the Dog is an adventure story with culture, connection and country at its heart.
Co-written by Tasmanian playwright Nathan Maynard (Trawlwoolway pakana) and Aotearoa writer Jamie McCaskill (Ngāti Tamaterā, Te AtiHaunui a Pāpārangi, Ngā Puhi) and directed by Isaac Drandic (Noongar), the play opens in the bush, when best friends Niarra, (Birri-Gubba woman Najwa Adams Ebel) and Te Umuroa (Maori man Poroaki Merritt-McDonald) befriend a Tasmanian tiger, skilfully portrayed by Tibian Wyles (Girramay, Kalkadoon).
Knowing the animal to be extinct, and fearing what might happen to their new friend, they devise a plan to keep Tigs safe by setting sail for Aotearoa.
On the way Niarra and Te Umuroa encounter cultural guides, family and feared creatures, played by Elaine Crombie (Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara) and Tyler Wilson Kokiri (Māori), who bring each supporting character to life with brilliant comedy.
The audience first encounters Crombie as Muyini, a Palawa spirit, and Wilson Kokiri as Muyini’s servant, when the former is wheeled out on her throne and sings her story to the kids on the ocean. Her servant, faithfully waiting by the throne, eventually gives in to his urge to bust a move. The audience was in stitches during the impressive and hilarious dance solo; a little girl sitting in the row in front of me laughed with such glee that I laughed even harder.
Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga designer Jane Hakaraia’s staging and set pieces allow for the constant movement that the show demands. Her hybrid waka Māori and ninga Palawa canoe merges the two forms, with the red waka featuring intricate designs on the stern, and the ninga made up of logs tied together with rope. This cleverly mirrors the partnership between Maynard and McCaskill, and visually represents the two lead characters’ investigation of their cultural identities.
AV designer Keith Deverell’s backdrops serve to convey a sense of place as Niarra and Te Umuroa embark on their journey – the night sky, the bushland they call home, the ocean and its vast horizon, the dark fog that descends.
The costume designs by Sabio Evans are wonderfully evocative across the board, particularly for the cast of supporting characters. The standout costumes for me were Tangaroa, the God of the Sea, whose stage entrance in a silver inflatable wave was breathtaking, and Kuti Kina, the feared Palawa spirit who hunts children. Dressed in an intricate black gown and cloak, this character moves on wheels and the rolling movement feels otherworldly.
As Niarra and Te Umuroa came to the end of their journey, I was moved by the depth of character development cleverly written by Maynard and McCaskill. Throughout Hide the Dog, the characters seek to better understand their cultural identity, a journey I can most definitely relate to. From the audience, it appeared that mutual respect was the key to the collaborative development of this production.
I was also constantly reminded of the excellent humour First Nations people have, in all circumstances, perfectly platformed here.
Take your friends and your family of all ages to see Hide the Dog. You’ll laugh as you marvel at the creative excellence on display through this feat of storytelling.
Pictured top: Keith Deverell’s backdrops convey a sense of place as Niarra and Te Umuroa embark on their journey. Photo: Courtesy of Sydney Opera House
Casey Mulder is participating in Perth Festival’s Aboriginal Reviewers Program for emerging Aboriginal writers and critics, mentored by Timmah Ball.
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