Kaarla Kaatijin – To Understand Fire

Ian Wilkes, Amy Smith and Shakara Walley  Photo:  Ashley de Prazer
Ian Wilkes, Amy Smith and Shakara Walley
Photo: Ashley de Prazer

Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company comes to the WA Museum during the school holidays to present its story Kaarla Kaatijin (written by Zac James) which means “to understand fire” in Noongar. Three young actors, Amy Smith, Shakara Walley and Ian Wilkes, under the direction of Kyle J Morrison, tell the tale of a group of animals that set out to bring fire from the moon (meeka) in order to warm the earth from an unending winter. This piece, geared at kids four and up, is lively, fun, and musical, and is certainly an excellent pairing with a trip to the museum.

Each of the actors plays a couple of different animals (mostly birds: a kookaburra, a magpie, an eagle, an owl, a willy wagtail) switching from one to the other by putting on a scarf, or turning the bill of her cap a certain way, and changing their physicality and speech. They’re also constantly recreating the playing space by rearranging the many boxes that make up their set. And on top of it all, they play a few instruments and sing for us! These three performers are busy and working hard, but they are joyous and engaging, and are very clear and easy to follow.

The music and sound (Joe Lui) add a great dynamic to keep the kids hooked; dialogue never goes on too long before a new song comes in and vice versa. The small, portable, moveable set (Matthew McVeigh) is effective and although the costumes certainly fit with the story, it would be nice to see them taken one step further by having some costume pieces designed and built specifically for the show.

Zac James writer 'Kaarla Kaatijin' Photo: Ashley de Prazer
Zac James writer ‘Kaarla Kaatijin’
Photo: Ashley de Prazer

As for the space it’s currently in, it’s a pretty good fit. Kids can watch this show about some of the same birds and other animals that are on display in the museum. There is a bit of noise from groups of youngsters touring the museum itself, but the actors do such a good job at telling their story that the noise doesn’t cause too much of a distraction.

There are some good lessons to be learned, that this group deliver without a patronising tone: the importance of sharing, and the benefit of putting aside your differences to work together. A good reminder for the young and the not-so-young.

Knowing that this would be a kid’s show, and not having kids of my own, I thought it best to borrow one from a friend. So I brought my little theatre buddy along to try and see the show through his eyes if I could. I’m glad I did, not because I wouldn’t have enjoyed it on my own, but because it was so much more fun to see his enjoyment. And all the other young folks there were just as taken in as he was.

He thought it was “brilliant.”

Cicely Binford

Cicely originally hails from Dallas, deep in the heart of Texas, USA. She graduated from Texas Woman's University with a Bachelor of Arts in Drama. While at university, she had the opportunity to explore as many aspects of the theatre world as she could fit under her belt, both as a performer, as well as in a number of different design and technical roles. After moving to Australia in 2007, she found herself back in the theatre world, performing, designing, and even directing once again, with a passion rekindled by the increasingly vibrant theatre and performing arts scene in Perth. She is also an avid photographer and can often be found around town at various performing arts events with a camera strapped to her neck. Her aim is to have her finger on the thriving pulse of the arts scene in WA through participation and immersion in everything it has to offer.

Cicely Binford

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