Theatre Review: Big stories in small moments

The Package

Mainstage at Bakehouse Theatre

Adelaide Fringe

14-18 March 

Masks, puppets, live score, animation, and choreography, The Package has it all.

I could talk about how adept the performances are or how well crafted the script is but I won’t. Not because they aren’t or it isn’t. The real magic in The Package exists in the transitions.

The story begins with an almost empty stage, just a gurney, and the band. When an old lady in the form of a masked performer hobbles on and makes her way across the stage it becomes clear that The Package is about end of life issues.

In a play about an old lady seeing out her days in an aged care facility I’d expect to see themes of nostalgia, loss, regret, and perhaps, in the end, a celebration of a full life, (this is the stuff of the influential picture book, Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox), and I’m not disappointed.

In terms of subject matter, there aren’t any surprises. We’re taken on a trip down memory lane in a variety of beautiful and inventive ways, childhood, marriage, and treasured moments.

The surprises in the play, as in life, appear in the slippery spaces between. The seamless change from 3D to 2D and from puppet to person is graceful and performed with skill.

This clever melding and blending of media is a structural conceit that highlights that real growth in our lives happen as we move from one stage to the next. Just as we are comfortable with one relationship, the tectonic plates shift, and our relationship expands to accommodate a child. This growth happens again and again through our life.

These transitions inevitably involve struggle and pain. The Package excels at easing us through these watershed times and illuminating the joy in each moment. The watershed moments are explicitly described in the story but they also happen in the way the story is told.

A puppet climbs out of a box and plays with the old lady.  I’m not sure when, or how it happened but at some point in the scene the puppet came alive for me and her paper mâché face was as animated as a real child’s features.

In the connection between a man and a woman and their first physical encounter, there is comedy and shame and desire. The ridiculous costumes try to remind us that this is a play but the humanity of the experience connects the audience and the performers in a way that is true and honest.

These moments articulate beautifully the way in which the biggest events in our life are so often unanticipated and yet so meaningful.

If I keep talking I’ll tell you too much detail about the storyline so I’d better stop. I won’t give away everything that happens to our old lady protagonist but I will say that as every significant life stage is explored it is brought to life in a way that brings a smile or a tear in recognition of a common humanity.

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All photos by Anna Cadden.