Review: RUNT – UnWrapped at the Sydney Opera House (NSW)

Created by Patricia Cornelius, Susie Dee and Nicci Wilks

Review by Charlotte Smee

What happens to the runt of the litter? In this circus-ring cyclical work, we find out what it’s like to be little – in many senses of the word. To be small physically, socially, economically, and otherwise is to struggle. But not without joy; never without laughing at yourself along the way. Because sometimes if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.

Design by Romanie Harper and lighting by Jenny Hector are bare and simple, with a large playground-esque wooden circle enclosing a sack filled with all sorts of creatures. The sack drops from a rope, and the story begins – bathed in shades of white and yellow light at high and low points of the show.

Nicci Wilks as the runt, directed by Susie Dee, brings Patricia Cornelius’ almost nonsense poetry to animalistic life. Simple and enthralling storytelling was made possible by using sing-song rhymes from the beginning, child-like stages of the performance right through to struggles with the “big man” who saved her and in protest-like chants.  

Wilks embodies a runty puppy, a screaming baby, a bum-scooching toddler and an energetic child, making for uncomfortable and at times very realistic portrayals of intense wanting – something even the larger of us experience. Her wrangling of imaginary creatures inside a sack gave it the life of another character, a metaphor for all the other runts of the world. Despite all this performance prowess, it was sometimes hard to believe that Wilks truly stood for all runts, which can be a consequence of claiming to represent all the downtrodden in one performance.

Shining moments included an almost camp lip-sync of ‘Born Free’ by Connie Francis under bright white lights, and the line still ringing in my ears – “greatness forgets runtness”. The cyclical nature of the performance brought us from sack-birth to Wilks re-entering the sack “womb”; we can never escape our runtness no matter how great we become.

A powerfully poetic and strange performance, RUNT leaves you enough space to fill your own gaps; what are the creatures in the sack? Who is this little person, really? Where are we anyway? I only wish I were closer to the stage and Wilks – this needed the audience to be right at the centre of the action so we could really feel like we too were runts.

A thrilling experience of almost absurd performance that brings each element to the forefront: the movement, lighting, set, and the writing all play their parts to bring you an hour of pure theatre.

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

RUNT plays at the Sydney Opera House twice more at 5pm and 8pm on 14 May. Find tickets here.

Find RUNT and our other May cheap thrills here.


Writer/Co-creator: Patricia Cornelius
Director/Co-creator: Susie Dee
Performer/Co-creator: Nicci Wilks
Composer: Kelly Ryall
Lighting Designer: Jenny Hector
Designer: Romanie Harper
Movement Direction: Michelle Heaven
Stage Manager/Production Manager: Bec Moore

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