Kids/Reviews/Performance/Perth Festival

Unlocking a box of wonders

6 March 2023

Wonderbox is a dynamic, multi-sensory feast which engages young people with disabilities in a joyous, play-based performance. Our reviewer Claire Trolio opens the lid.

Wonderbox, Sensorium Theatre and Performing Lines WA
Middar Room, State Theatre Centre of WA, 4 March 2023

Sensorium Theatre is a company whose raison d’être is to create live performance for young people with disabilities.

I’m not in that target audience but I’ll tell you that witnessing their latest production, Wonderbox, along with a handful of other observers, was indeed a wonder-filled delight for us all.

More importantly, Wonderbox proved enchanting for its intended audience.

Wonderbox invites a small group of young people with diverse disabilities and their caregivers into an immersive and interactive live performance that is tranquil yet exciting. While there’s no narrative, there are experiences and observations that evoke themes of home, friendship, nature, magic and discovery.

Director/designer Francis Italiano and the Sensorium Theatre team have transformed the Middar Room at the State Theatre Centre of WA, splitting it into the Wonderbox and a smaller chillout zone. It’s in the latter that we congregate and the first part of the performance commences. After meeting the characters (performed by Italiano, Jamie David, Bec Bradley, Rachael Woodward, Gabriel Critti-Schnaars, Kylie Bywaters and Michelle Hovane) the young audience members are invited to roll a giant foam dice. The outcome? A movement directive that will accompany their name being sung in a beautiful, welcoming moment.

Sensorium Theatre. A child has a look of surprise as they open the lid of a large box. Their face is bathed in light from inside the box
Wonderbox’ aims to spark curiosity in young people with disabilities. Photo: Jessica Wyld.

In this way, Wonderbox starts as it means to continue – it’s inclusive, gentle and personal. The chillout zone remains as a low sensory escape, should any of the participants require it, but we soon leave it through a curtain for a magical space. In the Wonderbox room the enigmatic cast lead the participants through a play-based theatre experience.

The performers are decked out in high contrast combinations of black, white and red. Amalia Lambert’s costumes are elaborate and impeccably constructed by Ellen Flatters and, together with headpieces from Mand Markey, evoke a vaudevillian vibe.

Everyone is free to move around and engage in their own way. Photo: Jessica Wyld.

Curiosity is piqued as the team play with concealment and revelation. Different textures, sounds and media are introduced throughout the hour, for complete sensory immersion.

Sometimes the audience is positioned to watch, at other times they’re invited to physically engage, and in the show’s most joyous activity, to explore the room individually but simultaneously. There are shadow puppets to try, a drawer containing video to uncover, sensory trinkets to feel and plenty more.

While there’s structure and order to the performance which flows gently, there is no prescribed way to enjoy it. Everyone is free to move around, make noise and engage in a way that makes them feel comfortable. Invitation is key. Each participant is welcomed to interact, but it’s not essential: they too can observe like me.

Sensorium Theatre ensures that each participant has ample opportunity to become familiar with the show before it begins. As well as pre-show materials available online, there are visual guides to indicate what is in store. Everyone’s comfort is paramount.

Using minimal verbal language, the performers incorporate sign, gesture and visual symbols to communicate. Infectious melodies composed by Jamie David with collaboration from Bec Bradley keep the mood light. AV designer Roly Skender’s incorporation of simple image projections against the curtain walls is all-encompassing without being overwhelming.

Every aspect of the show has its audience in mind and, considering the different needs that any given audience might have, this is a huge challenge. It’s also really important to rise to this challenge. With Wonderbox, Sensorium Theatre does just that. This production is a beautiful example of the inclusive potential of live theatre.

Pictured top: Sensorium Theatre offers an inclusive, gentle and personal experience. Photo by Jessica Wyld

Wonderbox’s season has finished but you can find out more about Sensorium Theatre on their website, and read about the making of the work on Seesaw Mag.

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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.

Past Articles

  • Gentle touch guides lunar landing 

    Balancing weight with whimsy, this children’s theatre work strikes the right chord for its target audience, writes Claire Trolio.

  • Next-gen theatre makers impress

    From the fresh and funny to the weird and wonderful, WAAPA’s Performance Making students bring fresh, incisive work at full tilt, writes Claire Trolio.

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