ADELAIDE FESTIVAL CENTRE: The latest chapter in the Children’s Cheering Carpet series is an interactive journey through the culture and landscape of Aboriginal Australia.
[This is archived content and may not display in the originally intended format.]
Saltbush is the story of Australia, told through the magic of the Dreaming, replete with a sorry, necessary twist. Our polluting, city ways have encroached irreparably onto Indigenous culture and the untouched wonder of our land.

Presented as theatre in traverse, the piece accommodates a dual front row of eager four to eight year olds. The ‘Carpet’ itself is a large, rectangular, white floor covering. Audience members are strongly encouraged to remove their shoes before entering the theatre. This is a precursor to the interaction that follows.

Narrator Jada Alberts charms the house from the get-go. Her lyrical prose is seamlessly interspersed with song, and she effortlessly carries the show; acting as a conduit between the silent dancer-performers and the restless, under-aged viewing public. Alberts’ has a fine set of lungs and an ethereal singing voice.

Most of the time, Saltbush had me transfixed. Here is a deceptively straightforward scenario, brilliantly told. Compagnia TPO and Insite Arts have developed a method of using infra-red movement-sensor technology, sound, and projected images of the Dreaming, to bring the outside, inside. Their success is evidenced by depictions of the Australian landscape, constructed in such a way as to act as additional characters within the story’s vignettes.

The sensors allow projected images to follow the action, syncing the dancer’s movements with transitions in the Carpet’s journey beneath them. Along the way, kids are encouraged to join Alberts and the dancers, engaging with the colour and fun of the imagery.

The work of Italian digital designer Elsa Mersi and Australian visual artist Delwyn Mannix translates into imagery that was, at times, a little too digital for my tastes. Some of the designs give more mature viewers the impression this technology definitely has room to move before it becomes totally immersive. In the end, visible pixels and archetypal depictions of butterflies aside, this is a well-realised theatrical experience, as wizz-bang as it is insightful.

All the performances are strong. Dancers Rosealee Pearson and Sani Townson successfully add atmosphere and movement to the Carpet. Choreographer Deon Hastie masters some beautiful moments in the story-telling, allowing the dancers to represent the living world.

Saltbush is a commendably modern take on traditional children’s theatre, albeit an exclusive one. At $20 a ticket for each member of the tiny target audience, on this particular Saturday at least, the theatre was necessarily filled by a privileged community (and their mums). It made me wonder what organisers price tickets at for schools shows? What a crying shame it would be to see interactive theatre of this calibre forever cloistered in the quality-controlled hubs we refer to as ‘cultural centres’; especially entertainment with such a clear and well executed message.

Saltbush succeeds in engaging its audience through imagination, asking us to find ways to love this strange and beautiful country; at the same time encouraging us to learn as much as we can from our Indigenous brothers and sisters, before it’s too late.

Children’s Cheering Carpet — Saltbush
in co-production with Teatro Metastasio Stabile della Toscana

Adelaide Festival Centre
Apri1 27-30. Season concluded.

Emma Bedford
About the Author
Emma Bedford is a writer, professional audio describer, and general life enthusiast. Emma is also a production manager for theatre, festivals and major events.