Patches is the second show by Sydney University alumni, the Little Eggs Collective. Where their self-titled first show—soon to be performed at the Festival of Australian Student Theatre (FAST)—was an examination of the limits of movement and the body as means of emotive communciation, this show has a much more defined project in exploring the issue of foster care in Australia.
Little Eggs Collective consists of a director and designer (Julia Robertson), a dancer and choreographer (Georgia Britt), and a sound, light, and AV designer and technician (Chris Howell), who have combined their not insignificant talents to create theatre that combines several elements, including (but not limited to): dance, physical theatre, performance art, mime, projection and light, and documentary theatre.
The most striking and impressive thing about this show is its sense of rhythm and synergy. Britt and Robertson are captivating in the connection they maintain with each other and their shared focus, which never once wavers. At times it feels invasive, voyeuristic, as if one is watching two people share a strange and silent intimacy; a private moment laid bare.
The small, intimate space of Erskineville Town Hall only adds to this experience. So frequently in watching dance we are removed, watching from great distances at the Opera House or the Wharf. So much of the meaning of dance is in its viscera; in the language of a body. Seated so close to the performers, the detail of each movement is pronounced, and we hear each clicking joint and barefoot slide. The use of breath, especially, to create rhythm and keep movement in sync, is commendable. Sections of Patches also incorporate clapping, stomping, and drumming into choreography, through which the body becomes both message and medium.
The differences in approach to performance between Britt and Robertson—a dancer and non-dancer, respectively—are fascinating, and never once a hindrance. The steely determination with which Julia Robertson approaches the feats of core strength or stamina key to much modern dance is palpable and, once more, frequently audible. The manifestation of this strain on the body is a grounding reminder of the limitations of physical form, where in comparison Georgia Britt’s polished and effortless skims across the floor look almost supernatural.
The set design, by and large, consists of five wooden boxes which are moved about the stage throughout the piece. These simple set pieces are both pragmatically versatile and elegant symbols: one is reminded of moving boxes, cardboard structures suggesting the impermanence of the homes of children in foster care, both entrapment and obstacle, and, finally, the safeness of a home found, rather than born in.
The play begins with Britt and Robertson, as two children might, teasing each other over being scared of the dark, playfully one-upping each other in a physically percussive dance-off. As the piece progresses, however, we begin to understand “the dark” as loneliness–the solitude and facelessness experienced by children in the foster care system.
A beautiful moment in which Robertson attempts to cross the space using the boxes as stepping stones, Britt creating her haphazard path and making the distance between the boxes greater and greater as she does, perfectly encapsulates the frustration and frenzy which Patches tells us accompanies the attempt to give homes to the alarming number of young people who are unsafe in theirs when space is so limited. We feel as if we are watching a losing battle.
This has the clever byproduct of making it difficult to know when things have gone wrong—a number of lifts remain incomplete and balances unsustained, but the frustrated undercurrent of the show, as well as its playful ethos, absorb these mistakes easily into what then becomes an experience shared by dancer and audience. We root for Britt and Robertson each time they attempt a lift, hold our breath and tense our muscles with them as they attempt more and more complex partnerwork, hope under our breath that this time, just this time, they’ll land it. Whilst technique suffers, whether due to lack of rehearsal or pure overreaching, the Eggs ethos of play and experimentation is apparent.
And the atmosphere Patches creates makes it okay to fail. Whilst imploring its audience to be aware of the sorry state of foster care in Australia—the large numbers of children who require more attentive and sustained care, the comparatively small number of families and individuals who have opened up their homes to these children, the alarming disparity in numbers on Indigenous and non-Indigenous children with access to these services—the piece is ultimately forgiving, cognisant of the innumerable barriers to perfecting a system which already ought not need to exist.
Patches is a testament to what small things can be done to evoke powerful emotion in theatre—which is what makes it so noticeable when too much is happening. The piece’s moments of minimalist beauty are breathtaking and often heart-shattering, and when the work gets bloated it becomes very easy to become overwhelmed and switch off. At points the combination of music, movement, and voice over containing information about the foster care system does the quality of each of these elements a disservice.
Whilst it’s clear that this crowding of ideas indicates without a doubt the passion felt by its creators for the subject matter, this is the main fault of Patches—that its content and form are at times at a disjunct. The compulsion to watch rather than listen leaves audience feeling as though they have missed something, and music-heavy mixing means that attempts to listen to interviews and statistics distract from movement and performance.
What makes Patches such a moving experience is its small, quiet, human moments. A simple trick of battery-powered lights inside upturned wooden boxes, coupled with recorded interviews with foster parents, was enough to reduce me to tears.
This is what Patches comes back to time and time again—though, for children in the foster care system, much of the world is cold and unfeeling, and efforts to break through those bureaucratic measures may seem in vain, there is a small warm light to be found in the idea of a home.
Patches plays nightly at the Erskineville Town Hall at 7:00pm until the 19th of September.