There are stories from my childhood that sit in the back of my mind and the front of my heart, that I carry with me on my day to day choices. These stories, on the whole came from cross-legged aloneness, my neck curled down staring at a page… or else from the even and often animated voice of my parents thoughtfully reading to me in my bed. Most of the titles are perhaps not recognisable in the wider world of popular culture:
Honey the Sugar Glider Rich Richardson, illustrations by Diana Petersen (1975), Barnaby and the Rocket story by Lydia Pender, illustrations by Judy Cowell (1972) – stories about nature and conservation and valuing animals and forests. (It was after all the early 80s…)

And of course the usual suspects of Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall, The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs… and the unusual suspects (thanks to my mother – who read them to me when I was nine or ten) Merry Go Round in the Sea by Randolph Stow, My Brother Jack by George Johnston…

I don’t remember Storm Boy by Colin Thiele, as a book. I remember it as a rainy day instead of having to do sport VHS cassette. I remember being bored by the dreary slowness of the grey watercolour sky and the empassioned cries “Mr Percival! Mr Percival!” from a child in an oversized jumper.

Sounds harsh.

But kids are.

And I guess I was too, as a child.

Now I’m a little softer, more patient (than I was) and Storm Boy means something different to me. A book that is more than 50 years old, a film that is more than 30 years old and here now a play that is new.

(No. I won’t enter into a discussion if this is a “new Australian work”… or a “new Australian play”)

What I think is interesting is if this is a “children’s” story – and in fact I wonder what constitutes a “children’s play” or “children’s book” – it is the story? The protagonist? The language used? What is it that makes something “suitable for children”?

I have to admit that having the varied literary diet I did as a child, and now as an adult being an avid collector of classic Little Golden Books… a place of lush illustrations and whimsical poetic adventures. I write children’s musicals for a company in Canada – and I often reflect on the changing face of today’s “children.” Partially I think the emergence of technology and the impact it has on the immediacy of information and interactive component. Interesting to note that in the UK it was recently reported that “Nearly one in 10 children gets first mobile phone by age five” and I think about how this piece of technology changes and adds to the social interaction children experience. And there are both positive and negative changes: what the focus I’m thinking about is “the change” in relation to the experience and expectations of older generations of what it means to be a “child” or a “young person.”

What is tricky about generating content for a young person is that oftentimes, by the time you are a content generator you are no longer a child, and there is a generation gap – and experiential gap – which exists.

As an adult I have a deep and long lasting curiosity about content designed for children – the difference between the worst manifestations (the patronizing, the overly simplistic) and the best (evocative, imaginative, emotionally complex) is hard to strike as adults guess and remember what it was like to be a child.

At these times I turn to CS Lewis:

“Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

It is in this thinking that we see the extreme value of what it means to understand what “development” is – development of children, of audiences, of thinking.

Our assumptions about what is “for children” can be very VERY off the mark.

Recently I’ve attended a few shows billed as children theatre which have left me (an adult – some would say a child-like adult) transformed and transported and entertained: one Storm Boy (presented by Barking Gecko and Sydney Theatre Company) and the other Half World (presented by Matriark Theatre at 107 Projects). I will include my review by Storm Boy in this post – as Half World deserves a full post.

Storm Boy itself is a hearty meditation on loss, letting go and moving on. Something that is a never ending concern as one develops, as one grows through experience.

With all productions there will and is something that will touch people at different times and in different ways (and this is why I think more critical discussion and more conversations are better) – for me, at a time of great personal loss (which always signals a time of challenge and growth) this story is a wonderful reminder of the resilience of the people left behind when someone passes away. And it is no wonder that I had a few tears run down my face when Storm Boy turns to his father to remind him that his grief has a wider impact on others.

We see a boy facing his father – a huge act of maturity – to confront and label what is going on. It’s startling and difficult and beautiful… and in this instance beautifully pitched by Rory Potter – who doesn’t for a second shy away from the conviction of the message.

Sydney Theatre Company have joined forces with Barking Gecko Theatre Company to make a piece of theatre which feels as natural as the Australian setting it sits in – it speaks our visual language, it has the sounds of our landscape: but it is not necessarily the landscape of here and now, nor is it the landscape so familiar to the Sydney audiences who attend the show.

This is a dream or memory landscape – of an “Australia” which is other. A time and sense of time which is other. A sense of identity which is not as digital nor as democratized as the technology that globalizes us.

And I think that is interesting.

You can read the review I wrote for here:|-sydney-theatre-company.html