The Small Poppies

21 Jan

I like to sit in the front row. And I usually get what I want, especially when it’s general admission. I’m fast, I’m nimble, and I’m not held back by manners.

But at The Small Poppies it was on for young and old.

I was surrounded by little people. There was wriggling. There was giggling. And there was a refreshing absence of pretension. (No comments of the “I see a lot of theatre” type. Not a single six year old sniffed anything like “I saw the 2000 production. At Belvoir. Geoffrey Rush was superb”. Whenever someone begins a comment with “I see a lot of theatre” I’m left wondering whether it’s a claim of expertise, or just a cry for help.)

Felicity Nicol’s production of David Holman’s play is high energy from the get go. I’d only just finished elbowing a five year old when I was assaulted by a cacophony of Outside Voices being used inside.

Yes, Inside.

Children love that sort of thing. And rightfully so. They appreciate there’s little point to theatre if it’s not subversive.

But David Holman’s play is not just for children. Nicol’s ensemble is superb. Playing both adults and kids, they deliver a fun and moving story of three kindergarten children and their parents.

The Small Poppies 5s

But it’s also the story of the extraordinary institution that is school – one the great experiments in human history. Universal schooling, based on the belief  knowledge should be shared equally, is democracy in action. Because we all went through it, we assume it’s natural. It’s not. It has to be made. And made right. And the play honours those who have tried to make it so.

The play is also the story of an ethnically diverse society. Set in the 80’s, the demographics might have changed, but many of the challenges remain. Rosie Lourde’s moving portrayal of Lep, the 5 year old Vietnamese refugee brought me to tears.

Multiculturalism is another of our great experiments. We struggle with it. I’m not proudly Australian. I’m not proudly anything. But watching The Small Poppies I felt we’ve had a go. There’s more to do. And the job, such is its nature, will never be complete. But we’ve had a go. We’ve used our Outside Voices.

And let’s continue to do so. Because, as kids know, that’s what Voices are for.

Veronica Kaye

The Small Poppies by David Holman

New Theatre til 26 Jan

http://www.newtheatre.org.au/

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