Snow-laden play is small but mighty

3 July 2023

With a vivacious cast, Barking Gecko’s latest offering comes with an empowering message for our kids.

The Snow, Barking Gecko Theatre Company
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA, 1 July 2023

Last week a friend of mine was holidaying in Perth from abroad. While here, she noticed how adults engaged with her children, speaking and listening to them. Her kids relished that people from outside their family made them feel like their feelings mattered – something they don’t experience at home.

This idea – that children are worthy participants in the world – is vital to Australian playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer’s work. His play The Snow, which premiered in 2016 and is presented here by Barking Gecko Theatre Company, not only treats children with respect, but also listens to their desires for change and gives them a narrative with the space to affect that change.

A performer clings to a wooden post, another grasps a handle to manipulate it.
Thea and Olive embark on an epic quest to save their home. Pictured: Grace Chow and Charlotte Otton. Photo: Daniel J Grant

When snow descends on the fictional village of Kishka and doesn’t relent, it leaves the villagers without food and resources. With a commentary on the inadequacies of an adult, bureaucratic world in saving society, hope rests with Thea Sutton (Grace Chow), a diminutive child with a knack for finding solutions. She’s given a band of heroic characters to aid her on her quest, as well as a tall, mute bag carrier, Olive (Charlotte Otton).

Soon the four strong and brave adventurers, that were sent to help her, meet a gruesome end and it’s just our unlikely heroes Thea and Olive. Characterised by their problem-solving skills and empathy respectively, the duo embark on an epic quest to save their home.

The Snow speaks to the eco anxiety that plagues us. But it does so in terms that are recognisable to young children. The work throws up ideas that kids can understand: how can I as one person effect change, especially when I’m small, or when I’m quiet, or when I don’t feel brave?

It’s particularly pertinent to kids, but isn’t this absolutely relatable for adults, too?

The Snow is choc-full of familiar fairy tale tropes. Some feel a little formulaic (a wicked spinster, a heteronormative love duel) but there’s no denying they’re a convenient shorthand to a fantastical world that kids will recognise.

Director Adam Mitchell’s vision brings this elaborate journey to life. Catapults, crackling fires, moving forests and a darkness so deep it’s almost tactile – not the most straightforward of shows to present. Alongside Zoë Atkinson (set and costumer design) and Lucy Birkinshaw (lighting design), Mitchell and the crew’s creation of different landscapes is adeptly handled.

The playfulness of the vivacious cast is met with delight by young and old. Pictured: Isaac Diamond, Andrea Gibb, Grace Chow and Charlotte Otton. Photo: Daniel J Grant

Like our protagonist, the set is small but remarkably adaptable. A painted wooden contraption starts as a backdrop, morphs into a castelet, and later becomes scaleable trees, a house complete with a cellar, and more. Lighting is similarly transporting, whether it’s the evocation of flickering flames or an expanse of nothingness.

I think there’s a temptation to go large and loud in children’s theatre, and it’s not always for the better. Sometimes a message is best conveyed quietly, no less when children are involved. In the first half of The Snow, in which the volume is higher, the direction compensates, however.

In addition, Mitchell’s wonderful cast members – Grace Chow, Andrea Gibbs, Isaac Diamond and Charlotte Otton – are vivacious. Their shared playfulness is met with delight from young ones and grown-ups, too. They tackle puppetry, moving scenery and stop motion animation with ease.

Sharing the stage is composer and sound designer Cathie Travers, who plays the piano accordion throughout. Decked out in garb painted with a woodgrain pattern that mirrors the set, Travers becomes part of the scenery, while the melodic and moody sounds add a great deal of depth to the show.

And it’s the show’s depth that offers an opportunity for its young audience to engage with preoccupations about the world and to emerge with hope. By playing out a fairytale narrative that draws on our current climate crisis, The Snow works to equip kids with the courage to challenge the world around them.

The Snow continues at the State Theatre Centre of WA until 16 July and is recommended for ages 8+.

Pictured top: Charlotte Otton as Olive and Grace Chow as Thea. Photo: Daniel J Grant

This review was edited 4 July 2023 for clarity.

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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

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    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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