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Theatre review: Cicada

Barking Gecko Theatre transforms Shaun Tan’s unforgettable picture book into a transcendental puppet show. 

Adapted for the stage by Arielle Gray, Luke Kerridge and Tim Watts, Cicada feels surreal but intensely familiar, faithfully capturing Shaun Tan’s style and vibe through the use of innovative set design, props, and projection techniques. It tells the story of a single cicada, journeying through conformity to find a way to freedom. Light, shadow, projection, and silhouette play visually with size and motion, while a tickertape counts down; but to what? Tok, tok, tok…

Ripe with visual gags and perfectly timed movements, the painstaking efforts of this hardworking cicada are comedically choreoprahed and expertly executed. Tamara Rewse’s flawless puppet construction breathes adorable life into the titular insect, whose six dextrous legs, miniature briefcase, and ‘skreeky’ sound effects elicit laughter and empathy in epic proportions. Humans are depicted as literal faceless suits. Puppeteers Arielle Gray and Luke Kerridge communicate powerfully using very little dialogue, portraying boredom without being boring, in a greyscale landscape of geometric cubicles and inaccessible toilets. 

The inaccessible-toilet gag tickles adults and children alike, and Cicada’s caffeinated office-antics effortlessly elicit amusement. An office-themed money montage – complete with secret agent sunglasses, intense music, and business lunches – heightens the dramatic tension with unbridled capitalism, followed by the obligatory stress and pressure of a toxic workplace.

Human company heads (well, minus the head) celebrate financial success while the little guy – literally- does all the work, reaping none of the benefits. Tensions snap to reveal a stunning transformation 17 years in the making, in which instinct attracts our cicada to the world above – a metaphor for personal growth, freedom, and flourishing – where transformation can triumph over stagnation, connection over isolation, and light can erode the darkness of monochromatic cubicles and greedy faceless suits. 

Alternating between humorous and hopeful, this performance will hijack emotion, regardless of audience age. Children will love the puppetry, storytelling, jokes, and comedic sound effects. Adults will be amused and terrified by the recurring themes of conformity, capitalism, and abject alienation. The overt hostility of faceless suits accompanied by ominous music, artfully composed by Jonathon Jie Hong Yang, might feel confusing to young children who don’t fully absorb the subtext. However, humans and cicadas of all ages will love the audio/visual elements more than enough to compensate for any potential lapses in comprehension. 

Above all, Cicada is a tale of endurance and freedom the entire family will enjoy. The climax is audibly and visually breathtaking, with generous helpings of comic relief to counterbalance the existential weight of the overall story.

Read: Dance review: Counterpointe

Whether one finds the ending tragic or hopeful depends on subjective interpretation, but either way, the seed is planted, waiting to grow; the cycle will prevail.

Visually masterful, thematically brilliant, and beautifully executed, Cicada is this year’s must see performance for children, schools, and families.

Cicada, based on the book by Shaun Tan
State Theatre Centre of WA

Barking Gecko Theatre
Adapted for the stage: Arielle Gray, Luke Kerridge and Tim Watts
Director: Luke Kerridge
Designer: Tyler Hill
Design Assistant: Amalia Lambert
Composer: Jonathon Jie Hong Yang
Sound designer: Tim Collins
Lighting designer: Chloe Ogilvie
Puppet construction: Tamara Rewse
Stage manager: Madeleine Young

Tickets: $30 – $40

Cicada will be performed until 6 August 2022 at the State Theatre Centre of WA before touring regionally:
Koorliny Arts Centre (Kwinana): 16 – 19 August
Mandurah Performing Arts Centre: 23 – 24 August
Harvey Recreation and Cultural Centre: 26 – 27 August
Queens Park Theatre (Geraldton): 31 Aug – 1 September
Broome Civic Centre : 8 9 September

Nanci Nott is an Australian writer who believes in dismantling traditional pedagogy in parenting and education, for the purpose of raising freethinking, compassionate, world-changers.