Review by Cicely Binford
Yirra Yaakin presents the third in its Kaatijin series of family shows that recount traditional Noongar stories for kids and adults. Boodjar Kaatijin weaves together stories about how the land was created, told by three performers using masks, puppets and movement. The Kaatijin series is an important initiative by Yirra Yaakin that’s reaching and teaching families about the stories and culture of WA’s traditional owners in a fun and exciting way.
Writer/director Ian Wilkes is a Noongar man who has been involved in the Kaatijin series from the beginning, performing in Kaarla Kaatijin in 2013 and directing Kep Kaatijin in 2015. This time around, he’s gathered stories from Noongar elders and chosen four that work together to form a cohesive piece for theatre. Also on board for repeat performances are Amy Smith and Rubeun Yorkshire, with the addition Wilkes’s own cousin Aaron Wilkes. The three play a range of animals and figures that feature in these four ancient tales: The First Sunrise, The Creation of Kings Park and How the Kangaroo Got Its Colour, How the Echidna Got Its Spikes, and The Creation of Wave Rock and the Stars.
Smith, Yorkshire and Wilkes are seated on the floor and invite the kids in the audience to come right down front and sit too. They informally interact with everyone as we enter the room; this welcoming atmosphere and energy is part of Yirra Yaakin’s signature. The spirit of family and connectedness is always alive when you walk into a YY production, whatever the space. The kids, performers and even the adults are excited to hear these tales.
Wilkes had designer Matthew McVeigh add some glow-in-the-dark paint to the Kaatijin set and costumes for this installment, which adds a bit of extra visual fun. His Kaatijin set is really an example of an inspired idea, with movable, odd-shaped boxes that turn into rocks, mountains, or whatever else the imagination can dream up. Pieces of the earth-toned floor mat peel away to reveal patches of blue that represent water.
The performers use funny voices, movements and masks and other costume props and puppets (Iona McCauley and Chloe Flockart) to become a dozen or so different characters over the four stories. The storytelling is clear, the direction is assured, and the performers are agile, high-energy, and in tune with the enthusiastic and thoroughly engaged audience of youngsters down front, who are happy to get involved in the action too. The glow-in-the-dark paint allows a lot of different lighting states (Chloe Oglivie), which benefits Noorn (the snake) and other nocturnal characters and situations. James Taylor puts in a few silly sound cues that make the kids laugh uproariously (and maybe a few of the adults too), as well as some interesting snippets of music to help keep the action exciting.
The Kaatijin series is sustainable theatre with a focus on grabbing young kids’ imaginations from an early age, and getting them involved in engaging with local Indigenous culture, learning some of the language and the ideas that rest with the original custodians of this land. This is key to creating a better community for WA. And for Yirra Yaakin, the Kaatijin shows must afford them the opportunity to create lifelong relationships with the community through their joyous storytelling.
Boodjar Kaatijin is on at Subiaco Arts Centre twice a day until 5 November. For more information and tickets visit here.