Balancing weight with whimsy, this children’s theatre work strikes the right chord for its target audience, writes Claire Trolio.
Claire Della and the Moon, Madness of Two
State Theatre Centre of WA, 26 September 2023
I do appreciate when children’s theatre isn’t afraid to tackle heavy issues. Such shows are real, relevant and treat their audiences with respect.
And heavy doesn’t need to be unfun. Case in point, Madness of Two’s Claire Della and the Moon pitches issues of anxiety and depression in a soft way and still manages to entertain. The show comes to Perth for Awesome Festival on the back of two successful seasons in South Australia as a tidy, thoughtful performance.
Claire Della (performed by co-writer Ellen Graham) is a young girl who doesn’t feel like she belongs. She’s anxious, overwhelmed and insular, which Graham conveys tenderly and compassionately. In need of some space, Claire uses her knack for innovation to build a ladder to the Moon. There, it’s finally quiet, but alone time leads to loneliness and Claire might be stuck there forever.
On her lunar adventure she meets Laika, the space dog. Inspired by the stray pooch from Moscow who met an early demise after being sent into space in the 1950s, Claire Della and the Moon gives Laika an alternate narrative where she lives on and helps our protagonist.
The dog is brought to life as a delightful puppet, controlled by Graham’s co-writer and co-performer Jamie Hornsby, who also acts as a narrator and jumps in to fill supporting roles from time to time. Puppet designer Stephanie Fisher’s scruffy Laika has bags of personality, and Hornsby’s dexterity with the puppet imbues a typical canine enthusiasm. Laika is the crowd favourite, a touch of whimsy mesmerising the young audience.
Some simple shadow puppets also feature in the work, as does video projection of a changing, illustrated background. They’re reminiscent of a child’s craft and pencil drawing respectively. Some acrobatics from Graham and kalimba plucking from Hornsby add flavour. There’s a welcome depth on the stage without busy-ness.
Indeed, when the narrative is normalising anxiety, giving space to the feeling of being overwhelmed, it’s fair to expect the work itself to deliver in a quiet, calm manner. This is what, I think, director Shannon Rush does best: engaging the audience without going too big.
Admittedly, at times I wondered whether the threads of Claire and Laika were woven well enough to maintain interest. An interruption to the performance due to technical difficulties didn’t help matters. But clearly this creative team know their audience, with the post-show reactions of children overwhelmingly positive. They were spoken to, not for, and they felt seen.
A trip to the Moon as metaphor for mental health doesn’t offer much in the way of solutions, but it does acknowledge anxiety and depression and invite a dialogue about these issues. Allowing space for young people to consider their own feelings, reminding them they are not alone, and to normalise talking about mental health with our children – that’s what makes Claire Della and the Moon magic.
Pictured top: Claire Della and the Moon takes a gentle approach to a serious topic, engaging audiences without going too big. Photo supplied
Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.