NEW THEATRE’S ‘THE SMALL POPPIES’

I was first introduced to David Holman’s plays when I started teaching in the 90’s and back then the plays were a fun exploration of children’s theatre using local references, reflecting current cultural and social trends and accessible for kids to perform or enjoy as audience.

So it probably felt like a good choice for the New Theatre to stage Holman’s ‘The Small Poppies’ for this holiday season and certainly there were lots of kids in the audience who were ready to embrace the ideas and characters of the play. But there were two things that made the play feel like it was hard work to win over its audience- ‘The Small Poppies’ is clearly dated in its references and content and the performance is trying so hard to expend energy, it lacks control in savouring the attitudes and life of its characters.

Sometimes you can fall into the trap of thinking that more is better when keeping kids engaged in the action and perhaps that’s where director Felicity Nicol made an error in judgement. The first half travels at a million miles an hour and I know my 6 year old companion sat frozen in fear in her seat because it was loud more than cheeky. But the second half shows much more control once all those characters are known to the audience and scenes like Lep’s (Rosie Lourde) show and tell and her mother’s day card are then quite lovely and moving scenes for the adults in the audience especially.

Overall there were some very nice moments in the play. Young Emily (my 6 year old date) loved the swimming scene with Theo (Nick Atkins) and his dad (Daniel Csutkal) or Clint’s (Ben Hunter) tantrum when he doesn’t get the birthday present he wanted from his mum (Danielle Baynes) and the scene at school with the computer and Theo’s dad and Mrs Walsh (Sarah Hansen) was a favourite of hers. 

Now is probably a good time to talk about the terrific design aspects of the play that we have come to expect from the New. I loved all the design concepts from Andrea Espinoza and brought to life by production manager Nina Juhl. The pop out windows and cardboard boxed surburban homes and skylines, lit by Sian James-Holland, were one of the highlight’s of the performance experience.

The play still has a lot of things audiences will enjoy but I challenge its young audience to know who Craig McDermott or Cyndi Lauper are and a bit more vocal coaching to master a natural expression of the snippets of Greek and Khmer languages mightn’t go astray. I would also suggest that getting the actors to take more time to connect with the characters on stage and employ more control in physicality and voice might also help in the control of the play’s energy and help contrast those moments that require the more flamboyant approach to humour.

It’s still worth a look and your kids will probably enjoy it if they’re 8 or older. It is an energetic interpretation of Holman’s play and the 80’s soundtrack will at least have you rocking in your seat.

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