David Holman’s play Small Poppies illustrates the simple yet endearing qualities of a young person interpreting the world. Taking place over the first week of ‘big school’, Holman uses the characters Clint, Theo and Lep to explore the importance of equality and education in Australia’s multicultural society.
Although this play could arguably be for children, the use of adult actors allows the mature members of the audience to critically question their own prejudices through the lens of a child’s innocence.
As soon as you sit down you are thrown into the frenzied, energetic world of five-year-old boy, Clint. Clint, played by Ben Hunter, is not looking forward to ‘big school’ because his best friend just moved out of town and his mother has a new boyfriend. Lep (Rosie Lourde) is a Cambodian refugee who can’t speak a word of English, and Theo (Nick Atkins) takes after his father, asserting his typically Greek love of cars whilst also finding a new obsession in kangaroos. All of this information is delivered at such a fast pace that by the end of the first act you’re left somewhat exhausted.
The chaotic first half is played out against Andrea Espinoza’s adorable cardboard set, complete with pop-out windows that light up throughout the play: a neat transitional tool. With heads popping out of the windows, spitting out gags left right and centre; the technique would have been brilliant if it weren’t for the lack of comic timing.
However, the second act is a breathe of fresh air. The pace slows, allowing the characters and themes to evolve. In one particularly poignant scene, Lep utters her first English word. The characters and the audience alike were transfixed while she weaved her way through cultural, social and language barriers, ultimately learning the word ‘fish’.
The performances were commendable, with most of the actors successfully taking on more than one role. Atkins must be given a special mention. Indeed, with the original actor falling ill, Atkins learnt all of his lines in just one week. Moreover, it wasn’t just his lines he had down pat: he carried a lot of the humour in the play and sustained an exuberant, light energy, befitting given his character’s playful disposition.
This is a heartwarming show, suitable for young and old.