Dreaming tales teach and bewitch

Picture: Ashley de Prazer

The Noongar word kaatijin means "learning", or "knowledge", and there's no doubt Yirra Yaakin, WA's indigenous theatre company, believes teaching its audiences is a critical part of its purpose. Just as impressive is how adept the company is at learning from those audiences.

You see it in the growing impact and enjoyment of their series of Aboriginal stories for adults at the Blue Room. And much the same development is evident in the origin stories they tell for children at the Awesome Festival.

Last year's Awesome show, Kaarla Kaatijin, for all its good intentions, was ultimately a bit overblown and ponderous. Nothing of the sort this year. Kep Kaatijin, animal stories from the Nyitting, the Creation time, or Dreaming, is a sprightly, engaging collection of traditional fables, related to the playwright David Milroy ("Waltzing the Wilarra") and the play's director, Derek Nannup, by Noongar elders.

The stories, of the feisty willy wagtail Djitty Djitty (Ian Wilkes) and his scrapes with the kangaroo Yongah (Amy Smith) and emu Weitj (Shakara Walley), the swamp tortoise Booyi, the mulloway Mooree and his insatiable appetite, Chooditch the native cat, Dwert the dingo, Mumung the whale and Kwilla the shark are told in words, dance and, much to the delight of the younger members of the audience, a big serve of pantomime.

For all its charm, and the undoubted benefit of introducing kids to the original stories of their surroundings, Kep Kaatijin has its disappointments. It lacks the theatrical inventiveness of, say, Terrapin Puppet Theatre's Boats in the tent next door, and that detracts from its effectiveness, both as an entertainment and as a vehicle for the stories it tells.

It's also imperfectly cast. The lithe Ian Wilkes, looking very like a young Richard Walley, is a stand-out, and Amy Smith has a swagger that serves her well in many of her characters. But Shakara Walley, a very powerful and effective performer, labours here, and it shows. Nevertheless, Kep Kaatijin has much to recommend it, and promises even more for Indigenous theatre for children in the future.