Review by: Kamarra Bell-Wykes

Quality children’s theatre isn’t always easy to come by and even more challenging to make. Children are fickle consumers with their “no filter” opinions, wandering attention spans and increasingly discerning tastes they may well be the most honest and terrifying audience a theatre maker could dare to win over. In this modern world where our young ones have access to multiple virtual realities at the touch of a smart device successfully captivating them for 45 minutes through a traditional art form such as live performance is downright miraculous. With all that in mind, it’s no exaggeration to say, the Crumbs creative team are miracle workers.

Crumbs is an invitation into the magical world of proud Nyoongar girl, 9-year-old Frankie. Frankie loves hanging out in her sovereignty-never-ceded cubby with her best-friend Robbo, a stuffed, gruff, straight-talking koala who secretly dreams of being a world-class ballerina. Frankie is of course no ordinary girl; custodian of some very old, very magical crumbs, the only remains of an ancient dreaming damper that when glowing transforms the holder into Creation Spirit Nyinny Wirrun ‘The Story Keeper’.

Nyinny Wirrun is a powerful and formidable presence with a very important story to tell about the recent stand-off between the Yamatji people and the Wadjala’s (whitefulla’s) over the destruction of Yamataji sacred site, Juukan Gorge. Frankie is well-aware of the responsibility bestowed upon her as a keeper of such special cultural knowledge, the only problem is there’s no way of knowing when the crumbs will glow and Frankie has to drop everything to become Nyinny Wirrun.
Let’s just say it’s not always convenient.

Today’s a big day for Frankie and Robbo, their next-door-neighbour Ash is coming to visit for the first time ever and Frankie’s certain they’re all going to be second-best-friend’s (although Robbo needs some convincing). Turns out Robbo might be right; Frankie’s full of imagination, adventure and wonder, Ash is full of hashtags, tick-tok’s and selfie’s and the two couldn’t be more opposite. On top of that Ash is the daughter of an evil mining mogul so when she discovers Frankie’s magical crumbs and wants them all to herself an epic battle for country is unavoidable.

Crumbs‘ performer turned playwright NazAree Dickerson’s (Nyoongar/Yamatji/Burmese) debut work and is presented by Yirramboi Festival and ArtPlay. Filled with delightful moments such as Frankie’s impromptu protest, Rory’s dream of Closing-the-Gap through dance and the “let’s never speak of it again” brownie-incident will have audiences from 5-105 laughing-out-loud and gasping with anticipation. NazAree’s playful, snappy dialogue gracefully incorporates Nyoongar and English; skilfully weaving political and cultural metaphors to deliver an insightful and compelling message for all.

Director, award-winning artist Nathan Maynard (Trawlwoolway, Pakana/Palawa) delivers a seamless and satisfying production for both young and old. His understanding of physical humour, empath and energy are undeniable as the action sizzles and simmers at exactly the right pace; keeping even the tiniest, most-discerning theatre goer’s eating out of his hand. The simple but effective stage design are both sophisticated and tour-able (great news for regional and community audiences) and the lighting and sound design deftly support the magical humour central to the piece.

Leads Tuuli Narkle and Michelle McCowage are nothing short of captivating in this energetic two-hander. Their chemistry easily winning over audience hearts and minds. Both performers convincingly embody their young characters without ever being awkward or uncomfortable. Tuuli is almost unrecognisable from her past stage productions as she completely transforms into 8-year-old Frankie; a testament to her commitment, craft and vigour as one of Australia’s rising stars.

Filled with joy, humour and strength that neither patronises nor leaves its young audience behind, Crumbs simultaneously ensures adults are both entertained and challenged. A simple, honest take on the often complex and problematic ethical, cultural and land right politics faced by Indigenous people and the pressure to not “sell out” (even when faced with the most enticing distractions such as in Frankie’s case a giant chocolate bar).

At the heart of it all Crumbs is essentially an enchanting fable about friendship, doing the right thing and standing your ground even when it’s really, really hard. Sure to entertain and delight all, Crumbs is undoubtedly a love-letter from Dickerson and Maynard to young Yamatji, Nyoongar and First Nation’s kids everywhere. A spirited reflection of Indigenous cultural and political identity through the eyes of a child, guaranteeing audiences leave feeling Aboriginal and proud or wishing that they were.

Playwright: NazAree Dickerson
Director and Dramaturge: Nathan Maynard
Performers: Tuuli Narkle and Michelle McCowage
Understudy: Jayla Booth
Designers: Michelle Maynard and Hannah Murphy
Lighting Designer: Bronwyn Pringle
Sound Designer: Candice Lorrae

Image credit: Damian Vincenzi