The Red Shoe from the novel by Ursula Dubosarsky, adapted and directed by Kate Shearer. The Jigsaw Company at The Street Theatre, August 28 – September 6, 2008,: Mon – Tues: 10.30am & 1.00pm, Wed – Fri: 10.30am & 7.30pm, Sat: 7.30pm
This play frightened me, and it concerns me that the Arts Around Canberra website recommends it for “anyone over the age of 10”. I haven’t read the novel, but reviews tell me that there is a great difference between reading a novel and watching a play. One blog talks of “a gorgeous sense of dread”. Reading allows you to sense the dread at one remove. On stage I felt the dread directly and left the theatre quite shaken.
The play is about children, but not for those too young. The ideas in it may well be good for discussion from about age 14, but the emotions that well up need the maturity of at least 16 year olds. From what I’ve read, the novel also lays out the historical context of the Petrov Affair in 1954 as a distancing device, but on stage, even if you already know the history, the newsreel images and voice overs horribly increase the sense of dread.
This doesn’t make it a bad play, just one not suitable for young children. What scared me most was that the central character, 6 year old Matilda, quite naturally, misinterprets reality. Kate Sherman’s creation of this character is so strong that we see and feel the world through Matilda’s eyes – and we are left at the end of the play never knowing the truth about events that seem to have been horrific. The idea that none of us can ever know the whole truth – about the historical past or even our own personal lives – is an adult concept. It is a truth that many of us find difficult to accept, and I took an hour after the performance to shake off the feeling that at any moment the worst might happen. Reviews suggest that the novel ends in a clear positive light, but on stage it was hard to trust the reappearance of Matilda’s father to be reality, when it might be vain hope.
This is, of course, a fully professional production and the acting and design are up to the standard we should expect. I did think, though, that not all the moving of characters on and off stage in the brief blackouts was seamless, so the theatrical illusion was broken too often. On opening night, too, lack of coordination of lights, sound and video was disappointing.
For me, then, Jigsaw presents a challenging piece of theatre which some young people may find disturbing, so parents and teachers should keep this in mind and be prepared to work through emotional responses as well as reasoned discussion.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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