Children, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

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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Children, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

The call of the sea

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre – Blueback ⋅
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, April 13 ⋅
Review: Rosalind Appleby ⋅

Abel Jackson’s sea-fringed life includes diving for abalone, chores around the house and snorkelling with an enormous groper Blueback. He recounts these events to his dad in questioning letters that underpin Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s latest show with a meditative, poetic tone.

Abel’s mother Dora Jackson.

The production is an adaptation of Tim Winton’s Blueback, an evocation of a quintessential West Australian coastline which brims with wildness and quirky characters. There is Abel, who spends the long weeks at boarding school practising holding his breath till his return home to his beloved ocean. There is his resilient mum who holds firm against land-hungry  real estate agents and biffs a fish in the nose to deter it from taking the bait of a greedy fisherman. And there is Abel’s absent dad, who we discover is one of a long line of Jackson’s lost at sea in the dangerous whaling industry.

Peta Murray’s slow moving adaptation of Tim Winton’s novel exploits the rhythmic swell of the language, heard via voiceover, with phrases overlapped like waves and peppered with lists: “snapper, dhufish, cod, yellowtail, groper… what are the names of all the fish?”

The theme of the ocean and humanity’s embryonic connection to it, is explored within a meta narrative of the cycle of life. Aided by the puppets, the story is playful and wistful in turn, expressed best in the relationship between Abel and Blueback which is built with games of hide and seek and moments of eye to eye staring. Don Hopkins’ score is propelled by a bass guitar 80’s groove. But there is a melancholy that pervades this work, perhaps from the lists Abel keeps intoning, and the gnawing absence of his father.

The colourful puppets (designed by Hanna Parssinen) include eels, lobsters, bright fish and of course the majestic Blueback, whose graceful and playful nature is captured by puppeteers Jessica Harlond-Kenny and Daniel Dosek. The human puppets are cleverly created using wetsuit material and round driftwood-like heads – part of the constant reiteration of the connection between people and the ocean.

Yet for all the poetic melancholy and environmentally compelling themes, this show left little impact on my entourage. The potential for immersing the audience in the story was never fully realised. We wanted to dive in but felt like we were only getting our toes wet. Perhaps there is no substitute for actually heading to the ocean and discovering its mystical qualities for ourselves.

Blueback continues until April 27.

Read our junior review, by Isabel (age 9) and Eddy (age 6), here.

Pictured top: Blueback meets Abel Jackson.

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Underwater image of diver and sea creature
April 19, Calendar, Children, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: Children: Blueback

13 – 27 April @ Spare Parts Puppet Theatre ·
Presented by Spare Parts Puppet Theatre ·

Blueback has been adapted by Peta Murray from the book by Tim Winton.

Blueback is an evocative story set along the Western Australian coastline. It captures the mystery of the sea and the majesty of an old fish called “Blueback”, and the moment when an inquisitive boy stands up for what he loves and believes in.

One of Tim Winton’s most personal and quintessentially Western Australian stories, Blueback will nourish your heart and the beautiful Tim Winton poetry will resonate with you long after you leave the theatre. This award-winning production is an underwater menagerie of exquisite puppetry and an extraordinary celebration of the Western Australian coastline from one of WA’s most beloved authors.

“When Abel Jackson and Blueback the Groper frolic under the sea, the scene is rhythmic and joyful.” – The West Australian

Duration: 50 mins
Perfect for ages 5 and above

April 13 – 27
10am & 1pm daily
Special 6.30pm performance April 18 & 24
No performances Sundays or public holidays.

Monday, 15 April: 10am (Relaxed show – limited capacity)
Tuesday, 16 April: 10am (Special Nan & Pops Session)
Thursday, 18 April: 6:30pm (Auslan interpretation show & PJ PARTY – tickets $15 for groups of four or more for this session)
Wednesday, 24 April: 1pm (Adopt A Puppet Parent Event)

Special Relaxed show:
Monday 15 April, 10am

Special Auslan interpretation:
Thursday 18 April, 6.30pm

Booking Essential
Please visit www.sppt.asn.au or telephone 9335 5044

Ticket Prices
General Admission: $25.00 (per ticket)
Groups of 4 or more: $24.00 (per ticket)
Groups of 10 or more: $23.00 (per ticket)
$3.95 booking fee applies

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre
1 Short Street, Fremantle
(opposite Fremantle Train Station)

More info
W:  www.sppt.asn.au/events/blueback-2/
E:   boxoffice@sppt.asn.au

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