Director Andy Packer and the company arrive on stage before the performance to remind us that on the day of the premiere, it is International Refugee Day. Following with an acknowledgement of country, Packer speaks of stories told by First Australians through songs, and it feels as significant as ever, for this show is a series of songs that tell the story of life that arrives on a remote volcanic island which has emerged from the sea.
Cameron Goodall shares a childhood memory about a book his grandmother gave him, a book he holds in his hands: at first, he tells us that its seemingly boring content made it an unwanted gift, but reading it in bed that night, it had come vividly to life in his child’s imagination.
Ailsa Paterson’s stage set makes an island out of the band’s instruments which sit within a circle of white-crested waves, and at this point, the performers each step inside the circle and take up their instruments to begin the process of bringing the book to life for the audience.
A backdrop of sheets is hauled up like a sail and the illustrations of the book are projected onto it like an animated diorama, while the prog-rock-like splendour of loud percussion and guitar riffs drive home the power of the volcanic birth of a new island as it rises slowly from the sea.
There follows a progression of songs, one for each new arrival on the island.
Beginning with a grass seed, the island’s inhabitation continues with the appearance of a young seal, an ancient turtle, a burrowing bird and predatory mammals until humans finally arrive, whereupon the natural order of things is disrupted by conflict and fighting.
Some songs, like “The Dung Beetle”, are funny and entertaining, raising giggles from the many children in the audience; some, like “The Adolescent Seal”, or the story of those that didn’t make it to the island, are sad and poignant, reminding us of young unaccompanied refugees who are fleeing from conflict, or of others who do not survive the journey made to escape war-torn countries.
The music varies from flamboyant prog-rock-cabaret-musical style to country music and cha-cha-cha, and it is performed with panache. Goodall and Leah Flanagan provide strong vocals, while Quincy Grant, who co-wrote the songs with Goodall, is at piano. Gareth Chin plays keyboard and accordion, with Satomi Ohmishi on percussion.
This is a show for older children as well as adults, though there’ll have to be special late bedtimes for those attending the last show at 9pm tonight.
Songs for Those Who’ve Come Across the Seas plays at Dunstan Playhouse until June 21. See more Adelaide Cabaret Festival coverage here.
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