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HOUSE, Barking Gecko Theatre, Perth Festival ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, 17 February, 2021
If Barking Gecko Theatre’s new show, HOUSE, were a book, I’d visit it with my children night after night.
The production reunites the writer and director team of Dan Giovannoni and Luke Kerridge, and if you thought their previous show, Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories, was special, you will be enchanted by HOUSE. The show’s much-anticipated premiere last year was delayed by Covid, so it opened this week instead as part of Perth Festival.
Put simply, the story follows Cathelijn who is rejected by her family for being too loud, asking too many questions and eating too much. When she discovers Elka, Piotr and the rescue house, she slowly begins to heal. The house, a character in itself, is a multi-level wonky wooden building that glows its welcome with cushions, an expandable chair, lamps, rugs and cookies. Oh, and it also flies! As Captain Elka explains, the house is “somewhere to carry you for a little while”.
As with all Barking Gecko’s shows, there is much more to the story, and as the house begins to reveal its secrets, we are all welcomed – children and adults alike – on a journey through loneliness and belonging.
Charlotte Lane’s set is like a lift-the-flap book with new delights on every page. The scrolling pictures, helicopter turrets and periscope (contraption designer Philip Millar has had a ball with this show!) reveal messages that Cathelijn and Piotr must piece together on their adventure.
Melbourne actor Chanella Macri plays Cathelijn as though the part were written for her, appearing to shrink and expand in turn as she communicates clumsiness, shame and boldness. WA Academy of Performing Arts graduate Isaac Diamond so effectively conveys Piotr’s awkward nervousness that it is both endearing and stressful to watch. Together the two actors powerfully communicate the crippling enormousness of loneliness. At the same time, their friendship and the humour present in every interaction offer some of the most heartwarming theatre I’ve seen.
The favourite moment for my daughter and me was Piotr’s attempt to practise his deep breathing – it sounded more like a steam train than mindfulness!
Nicola Bartlett brings a wealth of experience to the role of Elka, an older character with a quirky vocabulary who – oh my godfathers – is just as much a misfit as the children.
Rachael Dease’s multi-layered sound design is integral to the show. Eloquent creaks, whirrs and rumbles express the house’s communications. There are many noisy storms, and the show’s deeper moments are illuminated with the naive simplicity of a glockenspiel motif, or washes of warm electronics.
The show has an expansive and repeated welcome – I could feel my daughter relax beside me and allow herself to be fully drawn in. And the message is eloquent and clear. Loneliness doesn’t have to be the only feeling you have, my daughter explained afterwards, there can be another feeling that shines like a light inside you.
I wish HOUSE really were a book we could visit again and again, so we could snuggle up and continue to laugh, wonder and learn together.
Junior review, Saskia Haluszkiewicz, age 10
When you lose something, you gain something else – that’s the message of hope that runs through Dan Giovannoni’s play, HOUSE.
HOUSE is a tale about a lonely young girl, Cathelijn, and a magical house and how it helps her gain confidence and believe in herself. When her family abandons her in a cold northern forest with a kind, quirky aunt who is killed in an avalanche that Cathelijn believes was her fault, Cathelijn feels desperately lonely with an empty feeling inside her. Suddenly, a strange house appears and inside it she meets Elka, the lady who appears to own the house, and Piotr, another lost lonely child the house has rescued. Because that is the purpose of the magical, flying house, to travel the world rescuing lost and lonely children.
The writer had the idea for the play when he was travelling and feeling lonely many years ago. But he found that putting together the play during Covid and experiencing isolation, he felt our own homes had become “safe houses”, as the house in the story is for Cathelijn.
I loved Dan Giovannoni’s earlier play, Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories, and I really liked HOUSE as well. Both plays have magic, humour, lovable characters and the essence of hope. In HOUSE, the characters come to understand that we have room inside us for both bad and good feelings.
Chanella Macri as Cathelijn captured all the emotions of the girl who didn’t fit in because, as her parents said, she was “too much of everything”. She was too big, her voice was too loud, and she asked too many questions, her family destroying her self-confidence. In the end, Cathelijn was not just someone being helped to grow, she in turn helped the other characters to do the same. Isaac Diamond was funny as the excitable and frightened Piotr, and Nicola Bartlett as Elka was very moving when she eventually revealed the truth about herself.
The award-winning director, Luke Kerridge, now artistic director of Barking Gecko, worked with the writer on Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories and together they have again created a unique and moving production.
One of the most important elements of the production is the set. The house is like another character. Charlotte Lane has designed a bold, cosy and colourful house that feels like it has come from a Russian folk tale, a house that could have belonged to Baba Yaga. The house has a mind of its own and communicates with the children. Its magical properties allow it to provide them with whatever they need to heal themselves. The kitchen is the engine of the house and all the kitchen utensils have a purpose in making the house fly. The design of the house is so clever, the lighting beautiful and the sound effects so good, they all help very much with the magic of the production.
I would recommend this play to everyone aged six and up. The message in the play, that any storm will eventually pass, is helpful to us at this time of the pandemic and uncertainty about the future.
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