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The Boy Who talked to Dogs

We all know the back in my day tales of the punitive schooling system. Kids being caned for favouring their left hand, or humiliated for an insignificant misdemeanour. The lucky ones revere the period as “character building” but the truth for so many is that the system let down, punished, shamed and betrayed them, when all they needed was understanding.

By Hannah Muir

Martin McKenna was one of those kids. One of the kids that was disregarded as a delinquent, when these days he’d be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Though, the issues for Martin, growing up in a small town in Ireland, didn’t end there.

The self-proclaimed “runt” of the family would go from the abuse at school to the abuse of his drunken father at home, until he declared enough and ran away with the dogs, favouring life in a pack. Martin soon realised he had a gift for communicating and understanding canines, and found himself most comfortable in their presence.

The true story has been penned as a memoir by Martin McKenna himself and adapted for the stage by playwright Amy Conroy. Now, Adelaide’s Slingsby Theatre Company brings the show to the Northern Territory.

Artistic director Andy Packer says teasing out the importance of being emotionally challenged and engaged in stories is what the company prides themselves on.

“As a company, we’ve been focused on more than a decade on stories of truth and exploring the darker and lighter side of life, but for the most part fictional,” he says.

“We have a responsibility to tell contemporary Australian stories. Martin was born and grew up in Ireland but when you come, when you migrate, you bring the stories with you.”

The Boy Who Talks to Dogs is an opportunity for perspective and reflection on experiences that are outside of what we know to be “normal”.

“We’ve had really beautiful responses from 12-14-year-old audience members. We had one young audience member, who hung around at the end of the show and revealed to us they were neurodiverse, and how powerful it was for them to see their experience portrayed so honestly and faithfully on stage,” Packer says.

The show, which has audiences seated in what seems to be a vaguely authentic Irish pub, uses deliberately simple shadow puppets to portray Martin’s dogs, appropriately blurring the line between what is animal and what is human. The show intentionally creates space for contemplation and discussion long after it’s ended.

“The value of any piece exists within the audience and their response to it, but it should be a beginning of a conversation, it shouldn’t be the end point. It should be the beginning of reflection.”

Alice Springs
COST $40- $45

WHEN THU 11 & FRI 12 AUG | 7PM SAT 13 AUG | 2.30PM & 7PM
COST $20- $44

Thumbnail, header & inset: Photo: Andy Rasheed

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