Cardboard puppy steals hearts

4 July 2022

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s holiday production Hachiko: The Loyal Dog moves young writer Bethany Stopher with its bewitching cardboard creations.

Hachiko: The Loyal Dog, Spare Parts Puppet Theatre ·
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, 2 July 2022 · 
Review by Bethany Stopher, age 15 ·

As we walked into the cosy Spare Parts Puppet Theatre in Fremantle, the cardboard boxes lining the entrance suddenly made sense. In the middle of the stage, lit simply by a single spotlight, stood a table with boxes stacked upon it, and a plain white magnetic board behind, with a picture of the dog whose story we were about to hear. Hachiko: The Loyal Dog, performed by the Spare Parts Theatre and directed by Philip Mitchell, is the tear-jerking tale of the endless love between this dog and his master. 

Somehow, with just a few cardboard boxes and a table (albeit one with spinning features and a hole in the centre), designer Matt McVeigh manages to convey environments and emotions in a clever and subtle fashion. It reflects the minimalistic aesthetic that is common in Japanese architecture. 

We see this in the opening scenes of the show, as the skinny professor makes his way through the city, on his way to the university. The meagre objects placed on the rounded table are manipulated into a bustling city landscape, with skyscrapers and cars as far as the eye can see. It is then transformed within seconds into his office setup, the clock on the wall moving to represent the setting of the sun. The monotone pallet portrays the tired mood of the protagonist. The puppet version of him also reflects this; the rod puppet had slouched shoulders, with his head turned to the floor. 

Hachiko is later introduced to the narrative. And then nothing will ever be the same.

A cardboard dog stands on a table. Behind him a woman watches with a pensive face.
Jessica Harlond Kenny shows flair operating the puppet Hachiko. Photo supplied

Hachiko means “eighth prince” in Japanese. I was blown away by the work of animateur Ian Sinclair; through simplistic lines, he has created a vessel for a thousand emotions. We are drawn to the little cardboard dog as he and the professor share a tender moment while meeting. Although Hachiko is sharp angles, and doesn’t actually have facial details, there’s something incredibly soft and authentic about him. I especially loved the little spring at the base of both of the Hachiko puppets that enabled the tail to wag adorably. The design also felt very true to the environment, as Sinclair was inspired by Japanese origami.

The story that unfolds is a heartbreaking one. Colour is now appearing in the professor’s life; the beautiful Japanese music (composed by Lee Buddle) soars over the audience as the little dog waits for his master at the Tokyo train station, day after day. Multiple times, the movements of the actors are so synchronised to the bewitching melody that it almost seems choreographed. More organic sounds (car horns, bird song and ringing phones) shrewdly signpost the location of that scene while adding a more modern undertone to the otherwise classical soundtrack.  

But then silence hits us like a train. The younger children in the audience cry out as they hear that the professor has died. I’m certain my mother sitting beside me has a shine in her eyes. And who could blame them, as we are shown Hachiko, little cardboard head bowed in grief, as he waits endlessly for his master to return. 

Which, of course, he never does.

What to SEE: Winter holidays kids’ gig guide

Although certain themes may be confronting for the younger audience members, there is still an amusing side that has children screaming with laughter. I was impressed with how fluently performers Sean Guastavino and Kylie Bywaters adapt for different characters, each one bringing new information to the story. Whether that be the professor himself, glasses askew, or the nosy neighbour, they all encompass a certain flair that make it so enjoyable. Their expertise in both acting and puppetry, bring another dimension to the story. The puppets seem like an extension of themselves; they truly breathe life into them. 

Hachiko waits 10 years at the same station. And for his devotion and love, he is rewarded in return. Not only does he save the professor from himself, but he builds his own community, bringing joy to all who travel by.

By the time the cardboard boxes have been reorganised once again to form a stand for Hachiko to be perched on, a golden glow illuminating his precious face (yet another lighting feat by Karen Cook), we had been on a journey of love, loss and loyalty.

Based on a true story that has moved millions, Hachiko: The Loyal Dog is a gift that keeps on giving. 

Hachiko:The Loyal Dog continues until 16 July 2022.

Pictured top: Spare Parts’ production of Hachiko: The Loyal Dog is running throughout the school holidays. Photo supplied

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Bethany Stopher has long brown hair over her shoulders and is smiling at the camera

Author —
Bethany Stopher

Young writer Bethany Stopher is a high school student who has a passion for ballet and creative writing. She is drawn to shiny things, pretty words, and big hugs. Her favourite piece of playground equipment is the swings because it feels like flying.

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