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Chilling consequences superbly rendered

Review: Spare Parts Puppet Theatre and WAAPA 3rd year performance makers, Life on Earth ·
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, 2 November ·
Review by Steven Cohen ·

The earth is fragile. So are we. So is a puppet.

The timing is conspicuous. A series of short vignettes that acquire a cold and earnest insistence. The audience, quiet and still, silently gasps at the state of our Earth and the consequences of failing to look after it.

Such discomforting scenes form Life on Earth, a work of puppet theatre that had an all-too-brief season at Fremantle’s Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, October 30 – November 2. Directed by veteran puppeteer and Spare Parts Puppet Theatre associate director Michael Barlow, and performed by the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts’ graduating Performance Making students, Life on Earth is a master showing of recontextualization, animation and creation.

‘Life on Earth’ is a master showing of recontextualization, animation and creation. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Indeed, the name of the show conjures up images of David Attenborough’s close encounter with a group of gorillas. At the time, Attenborough famously suggested that despite our projection of gorillas as dangerous and foreboding, it is in fact humans who are the most destructive and aggressive of all creatures.

This is what the puppets were saying.

Certainly, most of this 80-minute production — short scenes enacted by a variety of puppets manipulated by a visible team of performers — suggests a critical take on universal themes: of love, and connection.

Youthful dinner party guests paying homage to themselves. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography
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The participants in a youthful dinner party, replete with chic and bonhomie, pay homage to themselves; two charming women engage in a slow lovers’ embrace; a child is born and then catastrophically handed away (or dies?); two men vie for the love of a beautiful woman, which increasingly agitates warfare and culminates in the piercing of cupid’s arrow; a man – like many men – embarrassingly attempts to engage with an exotic and alluring woman.

The delightful couple seated next to me watched these pursuits with hands clasped, chuckling, aware of their own love. Like everyone, they were silent, their embrace more conscious when the stage turned to mist and a seahorse meandered, terrified and tangled in a plastic sheet.

More was to come. A horrifying ending where misunderstanding and ego resulted in the performers falling over, one by one, as the last voice trailed off into a murky and deleterious end.

The success of this work lies in the simplicity of its observation. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Life on Earth – while harrowing at any point during the last two centuries, is particularly traumatic as we selfishly engage in epochal conflict and harm to our home. The success of this work lies in the simplicity of its observation: that we stand to lose all that makes life worthwhile – love and the lightness of just “being”.

The tone of Life on Earth is chillingly gruesome, unfolding as a pessimistic registry of slaughter and vivisection, in which classic love stories and worldliness become fixtures of a possible Armageddon.

An outstanding work, superbly rendered by its cast of graduating students.

All photos: Stephen Heath Photography.

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