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Sydney Theatre Company presents My Darling Patricia’s AFRICA conceived, designed and directed by My Darling Patricia at Wharf 2, Sydney Theatre Company.

AFRICA is the latest project by the My Darling Patricia Company. “Inspired by a true story of two young German children who attempted to ‘elope’ to Africa. A theatre of imagination conjured from broken toys, puppets and sun-faded furniture. AFRICA explores the complexity of the relationship between children, their families and our society.”

Three children are represented, played, by three amazingly beautiful (but sad) puppets (made by Bryony Anderson). We see them in the principal living space of their existence, surrounded by toys and a television. They are neglected by absent parent/adults and create from the inspiration about them, a world of a safe haven, of an imaginary Africa. The adults occasionally break into the children’s space  but mostly we see and hear them as half shapes and noise banging and intruding around the children.

This is a play that simply shows us the world that these children imagine in. We see the situation and it is presented as undramatic experiences, facts. It is straight forward and uncomplicated narrative. There is no judgement, no psychological cause and affect, just truths. It is, because of its uncomplicated simplicity, cumulatively heart breaking.

The world of these children, impersonated by these three puppets begins as cute and amusing, but as the adults impinge on their world, the horror of their innocent acceptance of what is happening and the implicit trust that they give the adults as normal is terrifying. The social neglect of the innocent and the cost to their psyches and physical well being is disturbing. This is puppet theatre for adults and it is not entertainment. It is not a show for children. It is dazing. It is shocking.

This is the darkest work that I have seen from this company. NIGHT GARDEN and POLITELY SAVAGE were disturbingly beautiful. Uncomfortably weird but still beautiful This is disturbingly ‘creepy’ but certainly a should not miss disturbance.

Polly Stenham’s plays THAT FACE, seen at Belvoir St last year, and TUSK TUSK seen at the Sydney Theatre Company last year also deal with  neglected children caring for themselves. The force of that contemporary issue was powerful with young adults/children on stage, but the use of puppetry to tell a similar tale of contemporary dysfunction, somehow, has a more poignant and shocking impact.

These performances are at the end of a long tour and are refined and wonderfully deft. Supremely confident. The performers: Anthony Ahern, Michelle Robin Anderson,  Claire Britton, Jodie Le Vesconte and Sam Routledge are wonderfully supported by the director Halcyon McLeod with a design by Claire Britton and Bridget Dolan, lighting by Lucy Birkinshaw and  composer/sound designer, Declan Kelly.

After the show we met Mr Routledge whose conception AFRICA is. “It is dark” we mused. He unapologetically agreed. Their next show is due in November at Carriageworks (their regular home, Performance Space). We hoped it was an excellent challenge they were preparing, but please less dark. Mr Routledge was smilingly bemused.

MY DARLING PATRICIA are  a special and important, always challenging company and deserve your attention. The form, discipline is not  only marvellously skilful, but their subject content also interrogative and methods slightly bent, in a thrilling kind of way.