Hiccup! has been written and directed by Jude Henshall and Ellen Steele, two actresses with distinguished stage track records. As creatives for Windmill, they have sought to imbue a screen-saturated generation with a sense of Australiana while evoking the traditions of puppetry as practised by Sesame Street and Windmill’s famous Grug.
In the name of the world’s hiccups sufferers, they have created Aussie bush characters in the outback spirit of Norman Lindsay. There’s lanky, bendy Emu, the mad inventor. If he is not eccentric and naughty enough, chubby little Quokka in her thieving quest for “ shiny things” is positively delinquent.
Koala is the innocent sufferer whose noisy hiccups have riven the bushland peace for 267 days and counting.
Tamara Rewse’s puppet designs deliver an Emu to be worn like a huge feathery tutu by actor Nathan O’Keefe. Quokka comes stridently and cheekily from the arms of Chiara Gabrielli. Koala is a prettiness of vivid blue fur with his ears as big as wings. In the nimble hands of Lachlan Micklethwait, he suffers assorted raucous indignities, all in the good cause of a hiccup cure.
Eddie, the human, had hoped that camping in the bush with his teddy bear was an escape for a good night’s sleep away from the incessant noise and light pollution of the big city.
He looms in comical proportions against a little orange dome tent. He deftly zips in and out of it to read stories by the shadow of his torch or to materialise magically in Emu form. It is a fun and fine performance from O’Keefe.
Designer Jonathan Oxlade has set the play in Aussie ochre hues with a dense crowd of rocks and trees, fan ferns, and egg-shapes. He also creates a horizon whereupon, at the story’s denouement, lighting designer Chris Petrides throws a glorious sunburst.
Also, in this much-awaited post-Covid production, there is an atmospheric soundscape whence springs a particularly winning audience-participation Hiccups Gone theme song by composer Ross McHenry.
The production is only 45 minutes long but it encompasses myriad serious themes: environment and wildlife, theft and dishonesty, illness and compassion, science and technology, and even first aid. There is almost too much going on and at times the performance takes on an air of freneticism.
There are explosions and smoke effects and acrobatic puppets with cyclonic high energy, and yet classic slapstick, old-school, Aussie-humour absurdities seem to bring the biggest response from the children.
It just shows that the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Hiccup! is a production of Windmill Theatre Company in association with Adelaide Festival Centre.
It is playing at the Space Theatre until April 18.