Fringe Review: A Donkey and A Parrot
When she was a child, Sarah Hamilton tells us, she heard this story. This story of a French Protestant family who fled to London for religious freedom over three-hundred years ago. First, left the two oldest sons. Then, the daughter and the two youngest sons with the help of a donkey. Then, their mother, widowed to illness while the rest of her children fled. The journey to London, treacherous with encounters with representatives of the King and journeys in rickety boats, however, was only the start of the story. In London it continued with a girl called Bridget, a parrot called Goldie, and a son who went missing for many many years.
But what was different about the story Hamilton heard was it was the story of her ancestors. A true story. A story that has been passed down through her family for generations. Sure, she tells us, there are some places where there are different versions, and it’s certainly been embellished over the years – so tonight she’s just going to tell us the parts of the story she likes the best.
While the idea of a story being passed down through generations is wonderful, the best story in A Donkey and A Parrot remains very much Hamilton’s story. The most successful moments of the work is when she is presenting it to us as herself, and not as the characters she plays.
It is in these moments where we can share in the true genuine spirit of Hamilton that the story is the most alive: in these moments it is about a living legacy, a story that has lived on to inspire someone today. It is more than history; it is Hamilton’s history, which she wants to share with us. The overall story, while interesting and fantastical, has little connection or relevance to our own lives, and can’t possibly have relevance like Hamilton herself has.
Evan Thomas’ set is the centrepiece of the work. At first we see just a wooden barrel, and over the show it expands to reveal all kinds of hidden tools, sets, and props. When Hamilton tells us the story of a bag of grain being stabbed, rice spills out across the stage; as Hamilton tells us of the boat journey to Dover she pulls out the handle of a oar; as Hamilton recounts to us the children knocking on doors in London, a door opens and through it the puppeted people of London are ready to give directions.
This set piece, both simple and complex at the same time, adds much of the joy to the production, as we wait to see what it will reveal next. Director and dramaturge Justine Campbell has ensured this barrel works intimately with the text, props carefully considered and enhancing, itself often foreshadowing the story.
Hamilton is a generous performer, her large smile enticing the audience in on the story. With Campbell’s help, she has crafted the story into a lovely piece of theatre. Unfortunately, sometimes the story and the sixteen characters cloud some of Hamilton’s affable nature, and the heart of the work gets a bit lost.
Hamilton shows versatility as she takes us through the King’s thugs, the Crooked Boatman, all of the Roussel children, a donkey, and a parrot – some roles more rounded than others – yet she is never a more successful performer as when she plays some version of herself.
A Donkey and a Parrot, we are told, is the story of Hamilton’s ancestors. It’s sweeter when it’s about Hamilton herself.
A Donkey and a Parrot, written and performed by Sarah Hamilton, directed by Justine Campbell. Lighting consultant Kris Chainey, costume designer Natasha DeSilva, set by Evan Thomas. Photo by Dani Knox. In the Tuxedo Cat Alley Cat, with the Adelaide Fringe. Season closed.