Farmer with dancer
Children, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Louder than words

Review: Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, The Farmer’s Daughter ·
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, 4 July ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Being a writer, I love words… but I’m also dance-trained and so there’s a special place in my heart for shows that engage in story-telling through movement. In Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s The Farmer’s Daughter (which premiered as Farm in 2014 ), the script is just one element amongst many used by writer Ian Sinclair to tell a tale about life on a WA Wheatbelt farm, from the point of view of the farmer’s young daughter (the effervescent Daisy Coyle).

Two-way radio conversations between the daughter and her unseen grandfather (voiced with his trademark charisma by Humphrey Bower) punctuate and personalise the play, but we learn as much from an evocative mix of mime, movement and puppetry as we do from the dialogue. And by keeping language minimal and imagery rich, The Farmer’s Daughter speaks as much to the accompanying adults as it does to its target child audience.

Daisy Coyle against the Venetian blind sun that looms large in the sky. Photo: Simon Pynt.

With a Venetian blind sun looming large against stray wisps of cloud, and stark tree trunks dotting the opening set, the vastness and dust-dryness of the Wheatbelt in drought is palpable (and, at the opening show, was a stark contrast to the wet and blustery Fremantle night outside the theatre).

While the story is simple, the devices used to bring it to life – in particular the clever interaction between Graham Walne’s lighting design with Matt McVeigh’s set – kept Wednesday evening’s audience riveted and my young co-critic scribbling furiously in her notebook. A dancer (the lithe and versatile Ruth Battle) portrays various flora, fauna and weather states; a sneaky sheep, a bounding kangaroo, a violent storm, a raging fire. Sand-topped packing crates become a canvas for sand drawings, illuminated by a sweetly retro projector. Small models of the archetypal windmill and water tank become life-size in torch-beam shadows. Lee Buddle’s soundscapes are the final touch, ranging from bush-band humour to cinematic drama, as required.

Under Philip Mitchell’s direction, The Farmer’s Daughter is beautifully and sensitively performed by its cast – St John Cowcher (the father), Rebecca Bradley (the mother), Coyle and Battle. As aforementioned, the story is simple and, at times, quite subtle. Behind me, one young audience member kept up a constant barrage of whispered requests for clarification from their accompanying adult, but this was the exception. The predominant silence in the intimate auditorium suggested that the rest of the children were thoroughly absorbed.

The Farmer’s Daughter plays Spare Parts Puppet Theatre until July 20.

Read a review of The Farmer’s Daughter by junior Seesaw critic, Isabel Greentree, age 8.

Pictured top are St John Cowcher and Ruth Battle in ‘The Farmer’s Daughter. Photo: Simon Pynt.

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