The world is on fire and there’s silence in the land of dreams: Patina, a Fringe review

By Liz Nicholls,

Patina (Old Strathcona Performing Arts)

What in the world is happening to the world? It’s on fire. It’s drowning. It’s melting. Its axis is slipping.

Patina Bellweather (Rebecca Starr), the official child minder in Smaland, “the land of dreams,” is trying to keep her spirits up. And she’s still up for a round of Fun Facts or “Where in the world are you?” if you want to play, just to remind herself that despite everything there are still random wonders left in the world. But there’s an unmistakeable air of desperation about her efforts. In a global emergency, time is running out, and her heart has “lost its lustre.”

“I have to be honest, you’re not exactly who I was hoping to see,” she says at the outset of Patina. She was hoping for a return of Smals to Smaland. But there’s “nothing but silence in the space where there should be children.”

The Frente Collective is dedicated to taking a strong climate-change  message onto the stage, and that’s a worthy and important mandate. Subtlety and oblique angles are not their thing, although Leslea Kroll’s new play takes its imagery from the playroom in the land of flat-box Scando furniture you have to assemble yourself, and meatballs.

Patina gets its inspiration from the children’s climate strikes launched by Greta Thunberg. Ah, so Smaland is deserted because the Smals are off, gainfully employed spreading ecological knowledge, doing the work the “biggers” should be doing but clearly aren’t. Which makes the absence of Smals is a good thing, right? (not least because meatballs are a notable heart-stopper).

Patina is a disillusioned idealist; her “heart bells” have stopped ringing. But being a character isn’t really her strong suit. True, she’s been hiding her light under a bushel (of coloured balls) in Smaland. But explaining her state of mind, for example, as “a vexation of spirit,” a phrase she credits to Robert Burton’s hefty 1621 volume The Anatomy of Melancholy (while marvelling at its 900-page heft) pretty much boots her out of her twinkly ‘collector of fun facts’ persona.

Starr is an engaging performer, who makes skilful off-centre choices onstage in trying to fashion an arc of discovery in the protagonist. But Patina is a spokesperson, not really a character. And the theatrical framework is there to temporarily camouflage the revelations attached to a passionate message. And it doesn’t quite pay off, on a pound for pound basis.

It feels like Patina is waiting, biding its time to say what it’s come for. “We do not get a do-over … no one is too small to make a difference.” That is loud and clear, in primary colours.

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