Puppeteers breathe new life into century-old rabbit

12 April 2022

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre is celebrating the centenary of The Velveteen Rabbit with a cleverly staged adaptation of the much-loved story, writes our junior reviewer Bethany Stopher.

The Velveteen Rabbit, Spare Parts Puppet Theatre ·
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, Fremantle, 11 April 2022 ·
Junior review by Bethany Stopher, age 15 ·

The Velveteen Rabbit, based on the ever-popular children’s book by Margery Williams, is a tale of friendship between a boy and his toy rabbit. Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s 2005 adaptation of the book, complete with cuddly characters and a quirky set-up, has taken over the Fremantle theatre for the school holidays. 

Philip Mitchell is the director and Zoe Atkinson’s clever set design provides a base for the entire production, with a sliding screen and conveyor belt revealing different scenes of various dimensions. This allows the story to move faster and more fluently, and shows different angles and points of view effectively, such as the toys talking on the windowsill or the boy crawling through the undergrowth. 

This really helps construct the audience’s view of the story. In one scene, the bed is turned vertically so we see the sick boy cuddling the rabbit as though we are observing from above. This is particularly effective when his mother and doctor are leaning over the bed, tucking the rabbit in with the sleeping boy for comfort. This scene successfully portrays the deep love between the toy and child. 

The performers – Michael Barlow, Bec Bradley, Nick Pages-Oliver and Louis Spencer – are amazing puppeteers. It is not only the wallpaper-patterned jumpsuits they wear that make them blend into the background; they truly put their whole soul into the puppets. The body language from the characters is authentic and delightful and has the younger children in the audience giggling.

A smiling actor, dressed as a young boy in cap and striped tee- shirt, with a collection of stuffed toys on a window ledge
Bec Bradley as the Boy with a collection of his toys. Photo: Ashley de Prazer

I especially love the action man, Bandito, at the beginning, because of his malleable limbs and sassy attitude. And as for the fairy, I don’t think I have seen a puppet look so pretty. The in-body performances are well executed, but I would have liked to have seen a younger ‘Boy’. I don’t think any adult, however talented, can fully capture the innocence and naivety required for this role. 

The story of The Velveteen Rabbit is not a happy one. The little boy loves the rabbit so much, frantically searching for it in the pouring rain and insisting that “it’s not a toy!” The rabbit reciprocates this love by going to comfort his boy when he is bed ridden. Then, tragedy! The rabbit has to be burned along with the bed sheets, a moment which is nothing short of devastating. 

The story glosses over this for the sake of the predominantly young audience, which was necessary for their age range, but I feel that it could have been more impactful. I have seen other shows by Spare Parts which harnessed emotional experiences with more depth. 

Nevertheless, the performance manages to address themes of identity, friendship, love and loss while considering the target audience. 

All of the toys from the toy box long to be “real”, to be loved so much that they are brought to life. And while only Rabbit gets his wish in the end, I think for that odd hour in the small theatre, all the puppets are very much real to us all. Grab a young one (and their favourite toy) and head down to Fremantle to see for yourself! 

The Velveteen Rabbit continues until 23 April 2022. 

Pictured top: Bec Bradley as the Boy with his Rabbit. Photo by Ashley de Prazer

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Junior Reviewer

At Seesaw we believe that shows designed for children should be reviewed by children. Our junior reviewers write an honest response, in their own words. Their contributions are a vital part of the arts playground.

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