We Repeat Ourselves

Premiere 1989
Venue Melbourne metropolitan secondary schools

Handspan Theatre We Repeat Ourselves white male and female symbols framing actors faces against black

We Repeat Ourselves Rod Primrose (L) & Maeve Vella
Photograph © Martin Kantor, 1989

We’ve got STDs, man ... Some that you can’t see, man ... Burning when you pee, man ... Itchy sores for free, man ... We’ve spread it so fancy free, man ... We’ve got STDs!1

WE REPEAT OURSELVES was conceived by Michele Spooner and developed through research in schools and human relations organisations; and in creative development workshops with playwright, Gilly Farrelly (now Gilly McInnes) and Handspan ensemble artists in 1988.

The play followed Handspan’s distinctive theatre-in-education style first produced in The Mouth Show (1978) and in the company's subsequent secondary school touring Lunatic Soup (1991).

Imagine a group of actors trying to show a teenage audience unwanted erections, a vulva and two elephants, one circumcised and one uncircumcised, which magically transform into penises, without getting into a touch of hot water! Ah, but with puppets, all this and more is not only possible, but actually happening here in schools. When it comes to sex-ed, puppets rule!

Annie Wylie Report, Manipulation Magazine,Spring 1989

Described as a frank look at the ins and outs of sex1 , the play introduced secondary school audiences to personal development issues around sexual behaviour, particularly conception, contraception and sexually transmitted disease (STDs).The theme explored the nature of adolescent relationships, decision-making and responsibility within them. It toured with programs of Teachers' Notes prepared by Handspan with Family Planning Victoria, and performances were often followed by Q & A and workshop discussions with students.

The use of visual images and puppets enabled the performers to explore these sensitive and often confronting issues in an engaging and witty theatrical drama that imparted useful information. WE REPEAT OURSELVES involved comic and outrageous characters in a simple, raunchy and very funny plot that illustrated its message.

The show opens with a black theatre segment to soundtrack and voiceovers where giggle making and often taboo subjects are introduced through a series of oversized puppets presented in fairly quick succession, enabling the audience to get its embarrassed sniggers, giggles, roars, hoots, gasps, etc. out of the way in the privacy of a darkened auditorium.

Annie Wylie Report, Manipulation Magazine,Spring 1989

Handspan Theatre We Repeat Ourselves girl puppets with operators on each side of a puppeteer with a large penis-shaped puppet, all singing
Cleverdick Rod Primrose, Randy (L) Maeve Vella & Sandy (R) Annie Wylie
Photograph:© Martin Kantor, 1989

Click photo to enlarge

Puppet characters, Sandy, Randy and Cleverdick appeared with multiple cartoon-esque objects animated in black theatre. Cleverdick was an enormous penis-like mouth sync puppet who grew in front of the audience' eyes:

Cleverdick would have us believe that his S.T.D Supermarket sells a product that we must have, to be in.

Ian Chance: Review Lowdown Magazine, August 1989

The text explains the nature and range of sexually transmitted diseases and demystifies and unembarrasses the audience.

Gippsland Times, 11 September, 1990

Contraception was treated with equal humour using large perspex male and female symbols: dancing sperm from the male arrow score a hit in the centre of the female symbol, marked by a ringing gong; and an appropriately-sized condom is 'applied correctly' to avoid the unwanted pregancies that result.

We Repeat Ourselves is a careful balance, an entertaining romp conveying a truly useful message to young audiences. A measure of its success can be seen in the fact that the girls of MLC2 asked their headmistress if after-school performances could be arranged so that they could bring their boyfriends along and thus break the ice on this most awkward of adolescent concerns. Truly enlightened and intelligent teacher that she must be, the mistress complied.

Ian Chance: Review Lowdown Magazine, August 1989

Puppetry was excellent ...a marvellous presentation ... a very successful and educational performance

Teacher feedback, Niddrie High, Victoria, 1989

The 150 puppetry objects manipulated during the performance are animated and given depth of character with skill and finesse.

Gippsland Times, 11 September, 1990


WE REPEAT OURSELVES provoked occasional public debate on the issues it was addressing with students but it was well received and well defended by its audiences.

We are delighted by the unanimously positive response to the show from both teenagers and adults and this success is naturally due in part, to the topical nature of the subject matter, but is also because of its good theatre, with a great deal of humour, variety and a wonderful soundtrack.

Annie Wylie Report, Manipulation Magazine,Spring 1989

It teaches the kids of Australia all the stuff they need to know about questions that turn most adults bright pink! … To make all the Year 11 students laugh you must have been good. Even the teachers enjoyed it.

Student response, 1989

Teachers were effusive, describing the work as a 'courageous production which all adolescents need to see'3 ;'a great theatrical experience as well as a fantastic, relevant educational experience'4 and claiming that 'students were spellbound'5 , and 'engrossed by it all'6 .

one of the most imaginative and cleverly produced plays that we’ve ever seen

Teacher feedback, Alexandra High School, Victoria, 1989

Publicly it was reviewed in Australia's Youth Theatre Journal, Lowdown with enthusiasm:

We Repeat Ourselves displays the deft touch of Gilly Farrelly. Without moralising or frightening, the text explains the nature and ranges of sexually transmitted diseases and contraception. As is the wont of our times, much attention is paid to demystifying and lauding the delights and unembarassed use of condoms.

Ian Chance: Review Lowdown August 1989

Handspan Theatre We Repeat Ourselves black and white picture baby bottles, merangues and domino objects

Publicity Photographs

Handspan Theatre We Repeat Ourselves black and white picture baby bottles, merangues and domino object making the word SEX

Photographs © Martin Kantor, 1989

In Victoria, Maria Brownell, a registered nurse from the Melbourne suburb of Camberwell, wrote a 'Letter to the Editor' of The Age:

While the issue of abortion is once again being avidly debated this week following Mr Justice Lindenmaeyer’s decision in the Family Court in Queensland, a group of actors from the Handspan Theatre have been presenting to adolescent children in Melbourne, an excellent production of “We Repeat Ourselves”… I am a school nurse in one of Melbourne’s large schools and I attended a performance of this excellent play this week. I am convinced that if “We Repeat Ourselves” were a compulsory part of the curriculum in all schools – state, independent and Catholic – the incidence of teenage pregnancy and abortion would decrease dramatically.

Letters to the Editor: The Age, Melbourne, 27 July 1989

Touring schools in South Australia for the 1990 Adelaide Fringe Festival Education Program, preseason publicity for the production in The Advertiser, Adelaide, caused another 'Letter to the Editor' from Tess O'Callaghan a teacher from suburban Paradise:

I write in regard to the article Sex Education with Clever Dick and Co (27/2/90) which was written with great irresponsibility and sensationalism ...The show is not only a valuable piece of theatrical experience, but life experience and the chance to talk and share openly because of that experience...The Advertiser article pre-empted and disturbed many students and their parents ...without heed or fairness to the show itself. This is sad if, as I suspect, it is going to restrict schools' responses to the show itself.

Letters to the Editor, The Advertiser, Adelaide, March 1990

The story was followed in the Adelaide News where Trina Parker, Handspan's then Co-Artistic Director was questioned about schools' willingness to book the play:

Despite its blatant sexual nature, ...Trina Parker said 'We Repeat Ourselves' had received no complaints during two terms of school performances in the company's home city of Melbourne, but that only two Catholic schools had sought a performance. Initial bookings show the performance has been more widely supported by independent schools in South Australia.

Letters to the Editor, The News, Adelaide, March 1990

WE REPEAT OURSELVES was endorsed by the Family Planning Association of Victoria and the Victorian Aids Council. From the former, Handspan Theatre received a timber plaque:

AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE: To acknowledge the outstanding and innovative contribution its production “We Repeat Ourselves” has made to sexuality education.


1 Handspan Theatre Promotional copy,1989
2 MLC: Methodist Ladies College, Adelaide, South Australia
3 Wheelers Hill, Melbourne metropolitan School feedback,1989
4 Toorak College, Melbourne metropolitan School feedback,1989
5 Yea High, Victorian regional School feedback,1989
6 Alexandra High, Victorian regional School feedback,1989

Scroll back to Click Tabs: The People & The Performances

Creative team
Original concept Michele Spooner
Writer Gilly Farrelly
Director Avril McQueen with Gilly Farrelly
Set designer Trina Parker
Puppet designer Michele Spooner
Composer Lorraine Milne
Researched by Lizz Talbot, Gilly Farrelly, Michele Spooner
Creative development Rod Primrose, Peter J.Wilson, Michele Spooner (1988)
Cleverdick puppeteer Rod Primrose (1989 & 1990); John Rogers (1989); Andrew Hansen (1990); Paulo Bongiovanni (1990)
Randy puppeteer Maeve Vella (1989 & 1990); Ruth Bauer (1989 & 1990)
Sandy puppeteer Annie Wylie (1989/90)
Recorded voiceovers Kerry O’Brien, Jenny Oldershore, Chris Palstra, Greg Palstra, Rod Primrose, John Rogers, Maeve Vella, Annie Wylie
Soundtrack recording Lorraine Milne, Dave Carter, Ross Inglis
Production team
Production manager Philip Lethlean
Tour/stage manager Andrew Hansen (1989); Paul Newcombe (1989 & 1990); Paul Judd (1990)
Director’s assistant Ruth Bauer
Puppet makers Paul Newcombe, Rod Primrose, Michele Spooner
Assistant puppet makers Belinda Bold, Janet Long, Mary Sutherland

Scroll back to Click Tabs: The Production & The Performances

Term 3 & 4 Melbourne metropolitan schools
22 February – 2 March Westpac Theatre, Living Arts Centre, Adelaide Fringe Festival Youth Education Program, Adelaide. SA
5 - 16 March Adelaide metropolitan and South Australian regional schools touring: Willunga, Nuriootpa, Waikerie, Yorketown, Coober Pedy, Port Augusta, Port Pirie, Loxton, Renmark, Murray Bridge, Lameroo, Bordertown and Mt Gambier.
April Victoria regional schools: Portland, Warrnambool, Camperdown, Cobden, Colac
May- June Melbourne metropolitan schools
Aug-Oct Victorian regional schools: Wangaratta, Sale, La Trobe Valley, the Mallee, Gippsland, Riverina and Mallacoota
7 September TAFE Auditorium, Wangaratta
Total performances 190
Total audience 26,679

Scroll back to Click Tabs: The Production & The People

For Young People: