Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin
Entering the BATS Stage for the relaxed performance, we are greeted by the colourful, yet simple, set: a dressed bed in front of a curtain with a pile of coloured pillows off to stage left. For those unfamiliar with relaxed performances, they are designed for those who are neurodivergent. The show is adapted for these performances to create a more relaxed environment, with light and sound effects being less intense and the house lights kept on during the performance. People are allowed to move around, talk, fidget, come and go from the theatre as they please, and are also welcome to a pre-show walkthrough of the theatre half an hour before the show in order to become familiar with the space.
This show is about Green Pig (puppeted by King) and King having to sleep the night before their birthday and, of course, having difficulty doing so due to excitement. Very cute! What a vibe! Unable to sleep, King depicts for us a story of pigs organising a surprise birthday party for Green Pig through many puppets and HEAPS of props. The show is sweet, whimsical and showcases King’s expert kazoo skills as he emulates the pigs talking to each other when his hands are full with puppets.
I have a lot of praise for King. First of all, a solo performer during a relaxed show must possess patience and skill as they perform dutifully in front of an audience that may, at times, make a lot of noise. King is a New Zealand Michael Rosen, the way he brings expression and energy to the performance. A mastery of the endless puppets and props that populate the piece.
What I look for in kids shows are good messages, heaps of fun for kids but also something entertaining for everybody. Party Pigs! does an incredible job of bringing something hilarious for everyone with King’s comedy and clowning talents. I deliberately sit in the back corner of the audience whenever I review a show in order to experience each piece from the worst seat in the house and yet every beat, no matter how intricately small is given the attention and time required to be truly seen and enjoyed.
The show is slick, funny as, incredibly sweet, and had the kids in stitches (and one burping continuously). It’s a shame that the show was only on twice during the festival but I look forward to this piece touring the nation (or overseas!) because of its universal strength. I would encourage the team to consider ways to make it even more universal by finding ways to tell the story non-verbally. Continue to use the kazoo as an indicator of communication but rely more on mime, puppetry or use of props to convey the plot without King having to say a word which would make this accessible to D/deaf, hard of hearing, or non-English speaking audiences. I offer this as my only feedback to the team because of the overall strength of the piece they have put together. Having not ever met the late Peter Wilson but very aware of his work, and his personal commitment to high quality theatre for children, I dare say that those in the Little Dog Barking Theatre Company that worked on Party Pigs! have done an incredible job in Wilson’s memory.
Party Pigs! was on as part of the Tahi Festival at BATS Theatre but has now finished its run, you can find info about that season here, and you can find out more about the company here.