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A surreal beach adventure

Review: Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, On Our Beach ⋅
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, October 25 ⋅
Review by Rosalind Appleby ⋅

Imagine taking part in Alice in Wonderland as it unfolds around you, except the environment is more akin to Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s new work On Our Beach uses similar fantastical elements to take the audience on an interactive adventure.

The production has taken three years to create, with director Philip Mitchell drawing on previous Spare Parts collaborators writer Peta Murray (the dramaturg behind the adaptation of Blueback) and designer Cecile Williams (H²O, a puppet play set in a swimming pool).

On arrival we were welcomed by lifeguards who took us through a labyrinth of quarantine, customs (in this surreal world you get to design your own passport), and other sensory experiences culminating in a waiting room. A faint smell of citronella filled the darkened space, and children luxuriated on the velvet mattress floor, relaxing to the gentle strumming of a lifeguard crooning a lullaby. It gradually became apparent that, like Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, we had fallen into the sea. Blue orbs and luminous sea creatures floated above us, exquisitely designed by Leon Hendroff and Michael Griffin and set amidst Chris Donnelly’s shimmering oceanic lighting.

plastic balls pour from above on delighted children
Shimmering light beneath the ocean. Photo Jessica Wyld

The energy began to change as the sun rose (a giant inflatable ball) and the lifeguards drew us into their games. There was a stray dog, the requisite beach BBQ, beach towel sculpture, a tsunami and even some cabaret songs along the way. Lifeguards Tani Walker, Shona Mae and Rebecca Bradley were welcoming, playful lifeguards, their remarkable versatility on display as puppeteers, volleyball players and even cabaret artists. Their rendition of Imagine Your Feet Are Fish was a highlight of Lee Buddle’s score, as the three actors, sang and shimmied their way through ‘the barracuda boogie’ and ‘the swordfish shuffle’, complete with sequined gowns, feather boas and slapstick comedy. If only the microphones had done a better job of picking up the intricacies of the lyric and the harmonies.

What child doesn’t like an ocean ball pit? Photo Jessica Wyld

The entire show was a lot of fun. What child doesn’t like diving around a stage converted into an enormous ocean ball pit? The mix of sensory experiences left a rich imprint – I can still smell those frying onions! But the emotional impact was less significant. Theatre has such potential to enhance empathy and awareness of ‘other’, and this was a missed opportunity to engage audiences more deeply with the fragile relationships between people, animals and our beaches.

On Our Beach continues until October 12. Read a review by our junior critic.

Picture Top: A beach BBQ and games are all part of the fun in On Our Beach. Photo supplied.

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