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Reviews | Interviews | Testimonial

Seven Sisters, Perth Festival (2023)

ArtsHub Theatre review:
The latest WAYTCo production is a rich tapestry of story and self-reflection inspired by our connection to the stars.
15 Feb 2023, by Richard Watts 

For as long as humans have told stories around the campfire, we’ve also stared up in wonder at the stars. But whereas once we explored the mysteries of the cosmos in cave art and in ritual objects of gold and bronze, today we’re just as likely to tweet about a falling star as write a poem about it.

This year’s Perth Festival has the theme of Djinda (the Noongar word for ‘stars’), which is referenced in a number of ways throughout the program, from the genuine star power of Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk to the free outdoor production Djoondal, which utilised drones and lasers to tell a Dreaming story about the creation of the Milky Way on the Festival’s opening weekend.

Another creative response to the theme is seen in Seven Sisters, the latest production from the WA Youth Theatre Company (WAYTCo), which is being staged at multiple venues.

Made in consultation with Noongar Elder Roma Yibiyung Winmar, Seven Sisters is a devised work drawing upon the lived experiences of its participants rather than a literal exploration of the myriad stories about the Pleiades. Skilfully dramaturged so that its separate stories complement one another rather than clash, this elegant and engaging production is co-directed by emerging Noongar/Greek theatre-maker Cezera Critti-Schnaars and WAYTCo Artistic Director James Berlyn, and is performed outdoors, under the stars, at several different locations across the Festival.

Although occasionally earnest, at its best the production is heartfelt and often moving. Subtle physical flourishes, such as shared movements to highlight a sense of connection and togetherness during Louis Neylon-Williams’ macabre yet touching monologue about Pleione and Atlas, enrich the performances, while Levi Widnall’s score, featuring a crackling fire and didgeridoo, also adds subtle emphasis to the proceedings.

Equally assured is the skillful intercutting between Jayda Corunna and Victoire Hemedi’s parallel stories about family, displacement and belonging, ensuring their monologues are compelling knitted together as well as being strongly performed. Jono Battista’s performance is striking and direct, while Makaela Rowe-Fox successfully links a screed about capitalism and light pollution with a reflection on the importance of family.

Not every sequence lands – a comedic routine mocking the wellness industry performed by Stella Finn is genuinely funny, but feels tonally at odds with the majority of the production – but overall, Seven Sisters offers genuine insights into the hopes and dreams of the next generation of performers, simultaneously reminding audiences of the importance of fellowship and connection regardless of age.

Just as the ancients drew patterns in the sky to create constellations, here the participants create more intimate constellations of their own by sharing their stories with us and one another. In doing so, they draw together a tapestry of glittering narratives that are physically embodied in the production’s final, beautiful moments.

Photo: Jess Wyld.

Seesawmag Theatre Review: Star gazing is the starting point for WA Youth Theatre Company’s new work, transporting us into the worlds of young people and the challenges they face. The result, says David Zampatti, yields many rewards. 14 Feb 2023

Telling stories to the stars


ARCO Inter/National Tour (2023)

Award winner, FUSE International UK: Best Children and Families Performance


Award-winning autobiographical show about living with autism ARCO Jnr makes its way to Arts Centre Melbourne.

Picked up by Beat Magazine and Southbank Local News

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Testimonial from Beatrice Lo, Producer – Programming | Arts Centre Melbourne:

“I think I speak for all of The Channel team when I say it was such a pleasure to have WAYTCo in the building, your team’s professionalism, generosity and collaborative spirit throughout this process has been so appreciated. Please pass on my heartfelt thanks to Adam and Catherine too.

It was a real joy watching audiences connect with Adam and the show throughout the week, and seeing how impactful the work was with students, teachers, young people and families alike has been a big highlight. Adam has a fantastic way with audiences…”

ARCO – At the DreamBIG Children’s Festival: Interview with co-creators Adam Kelly and James Berlyn, conducted by Ben Stefanoff for Glam Adelaide.

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Arco, Awesome Children’s Festival (2021)

Seesaw Mag:
“Intimate view from the spectrum”
Review by Lydia Edwards & Junior Reviewer Bethany Stopher, 29th September 2021

Intimate view from the spectrum

Beside, Perth Festival (2021)

The Australian:
“Swan River conjures timeless stories and misplaced ghosts”
Review by Victoria Laurie, 26 February 2021

Artistic licence allows all kinds of liberties to be taken, but that the results can be mixed is evident in two Perth Festival productions. Black Swan’s The Cherry Orchard and WA Youth Theatre Company’s Beside each are set in a historic precinct and performed in a promenade style in which the audience moves from indoors to outside and back again.

In Beside, the narrative is created form the setting; in The Cherry Orchard, the existing story is shoehorned into the location. The former approach satisfies as surely as the latter falls short.

For its first Perth Festival commission in the company’s 40-year history, WAYTCo has created a shimmering, immersive gem. Beside is immersive in the literal sense, because young performers enter the moonlit Swan River and are transformed into cormorants fishing on the river’s edge, or into water spirits. The flick of many hands conjures up fish shoals heading into the depths as the cormorants advance.

The parable of river life derives from the 20-strong cast members working with Aboriginal advisers with deeper knowledge of the Swan, or Derbarl Yerrigan.

The playful and astute thoughts of young performers aged 13 to 26 are woven into this opening section, lit by electric torchlight. And then guests are led from the shore to the nearby homestead at Peninsula Farm, whose colonial pioneers took up land and raised their kids beside the water.

In a second section, Beside uses novel ways to present the early settlement stories of Nyoongar people who worked as servants or were moved on. Inside four tiny rooms, viewers take turns to watch brief vignettes, from two white sisters who whisper their fears into the dark to an Aboriginal woman kneading bread in the kitchen.

A superb performance is by two Aboriginal boys – the age of boys taken from Stolen Generations – who dance within the homestead’s narrow walls, their frenzied movements showered by black swan feathers. Strikingly original, humble and non-didactic in the way it interprets big issues, Beside could have seeped up from the riverbed itself.

Photo: Jess Wyld.

Rest, FringeWorld (2019)

The West Australian:
“Cemetery respectfully opens for business”
Review by Kent Acott, 27th January 2019.
4.5 stars

The East Perth cemetery has been “closed for business” for more than 100 years.

Today — surrounded by busy roads, multi-storey homes and offices — it sits quietly, heavily fenced and largely inaccessible.
Yet, within its perimeter, lie thousands of stories. And it is a snapshot of these stories that underpins this cleverly conceived and immaculately researched piece of immersive theatre.

Patrons are given a unique opportunity to experience these stories at night, beneath the stars and amid sparsely lit tombstones, paths and trees.
And the experience takes a number of forms — through one-on-one conversations beside a monument, or through an avenue of dramatic dark forms or by lying amid a field of the unmarked graves, first in silence and then to the recorded observations of an Aboriginal elder.

Access to the cemetery, especially at night, is rare and a major factor in the appeal of this presentation. But it offers so much more. As a collaboration between the National Trust of WA and the WA Youth Theatre Company, it mashes into an engaging mix of history and creativity.

Despite the subject matter, there is a freshness to it and an absolute respectfulness to the site and to the people whose remains lie within it.
It brings history alive — but is not bogged down by it. Rather, it finds a contemporary perspective that allows time for personal reflections and to consider an individual’s sense of space and time.

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Seesawmag Theatre Review: A profoundly moving encounter. Fringe World Review by Jenny Scott, 25 January 2019.

A profoundly moving encounter


From the Turnstiles Blog: “As fine a piece of site-specific theatre as I can remember…”
Review by David Zampatti, 24th January 2019
5 stars

As fine a piece of site-specific theatre as I can remember and an enormous credit to James Berlyn, Monica Main and Rubeun Yorkshire, the composer Rachael Dease, lighting designer Lucy Birkinshaw, stage manager Emily Stokoe and the wonderful young cast from WAYTCo who made the extraordinary East Perth Cemetery come to life. The season is sold out, but I believe there may be some performances added. You should keep an eye out for them!

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