Children, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Sea story strikes a sad note

Review: Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, Blueback ·
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, 10 April ·
Junior review by Isabel, age 9 ·

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s production of Blueback was adapted by Peta Murray from the book by Tim Winton, and directed by Philip Mitchell.

The play was about a boy called Abel Jackson and he lived by the sea. One day when he was scuba diving he met a fish and he called him Blueback because of his colour. The story follows Abel as he grows up and tells about the changes in the ocean like pollution.

Abel moved away to go to school and when he came back in the holidays, people were trying to buy his family’s land. After he finished school, Abel went to university to study the ocean and he travelled the world. Meanwhile, his mother was back at home watching all the changes in the ocean like dying fish and sea lions from Antarctica washing up on the coast.

The performers (Daniel Doseck and Jessica Harlond Kenny) were really good at moving the puppets. At the start they moved an eel around and it moved in a very realistic way. My favourite puppet was Blueback because he was really friendly and when he first met Abel he grabbed his flipper and wouldn’t let go. The puppets for Abel and his mother were a bit creepy because they were bald and they didn’t have mouths. The puppets used for when they were swimming made the people look like eels because they had no arms or legs.

The lighting made everything look blue like the sea. The set was used in several ways to make a coral reef, a road and some grape vines. My favourite part was at the end when Abel’s daughter Anna met Blueback.

Overall, the play was quite sad and a little bit scary. I would recommend it for older children because all the death makes it too scary for younger kids.


Junior review by Eddy, age 6 ·

This was a story about a fish called Blueback. He was very big, blue and very old. There was a little boy and his mum who lived by the sea. The boy was little at the beginning of the play but he grew up and went to school and then university to study the sea.

The play is very sad because lots of things are dead or get killed, like fish, a shark and lots of people.

The puppeteers moved the puppets really well and made it look like they were swimming. The best part was when the boy discovered Blueback and Blueback nipped his flippers.

There were flashing lights for the lightning. The music got sad when the sad parts happened and was happy when the happy parts happened.

I think this play was quite good and big kids will enjoy it.

Blueback continues until April 27.

Read our “senior” review by Rosalind Appleby here.

Pictured top is a scene from ‘Blueback’.

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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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Children, News

Kids Autumn Gig Guide

As we approach the school holidays the arts scene is cranking up for kids.

The West Australian Symphony Orchestra is offering two movie screenings with live soundtrack: Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire on March 29/30 and The Little Mermaid on April 26/27. Did you know it has been 30 years since Disney released The Little Mermaid? Dust off the costumes and get ready to sing along to Alan Menken’s Academy Award-winning score!

WA has two youth orchestras and both offer hands-on concerts tailored for children. On April 6/7 the WA Youth Orchestra invites children aged 2–8 to experience live music in an up-close and personal setting. At Babies Proms concerts children learn about the instruments, are invited to conduct the orchestra and can join the musicians on stage. Also popular with kids and the carers, the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra’s similar Jazz for Juniors series on April 16-17 includes a have-a-go session at the end of the show.

Underwater image of diver and sea creature
Puppets tell the story in Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s Blueback.

During the school holidays (April 13-27) Spare Parts Puppet Theatre will reprise an adaption of Tim Winton’s Blueback. The moving story captures the mystery of the sea and the majesty of an old fish called Blueback. The audience follows Abel’s journey from inquisitive boy to a man prepared to stand up for what he loves and believes in.

Youth Week WA also coincides with the school holidays and Propel Youth is celebrating with their annual KickstART Festival from April 13-20. On offer are 40 free events and workshops celebrating the positive contributions young people make to our community. Craft, songwriting, collage, puppetry and a huge variety of classes are on offer for youth aged 12-26.

There are some great holiday courses available for children. Fremantle Arts Centre offers two and three-hour classes including sessions on how to make your own piggy bank, t-shirt, cuddly toy, or explorations into photography, pottery and animation. Barking Gecko‘s drama classes on April 16-18 look great, with a fairy tale theme and classes catering for ages 5-7  and 8-12.

The State Theatre is hosting two shows touring nationally with CDP Theatre Producers: Room on the Broom, based on Julia Donaldson’s much loved classic (April 23-28) and Billionaire Boy based on David Williams hilarious children’s book (April 24-27). CDP Theatre are the team behind The Gruffulo’s Child and The 13-, 26-, 52- and 78-Storey Treehouses and are pretty reliable for a great live show.

Finally, on May 18 one of my favourite music educators Paul Rissmann returns to WASO for another EChO concert. Backed by an 11-piece orchestra Rissmann will explore the gorgeous children’s books The Giddy Goat and The Lion Who Loved in his gently invitational and entertaining style.

Dive into the arts with your family and enjoy the magic that is autumn in Perth!

Pictured top: children get hands on at Jazz for Juniors.

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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 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

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Tim Winton's Shrine
Calendar, February 19, March 19, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: Tim Winton’s Shrine

15 Feb – 2 Mar @ Melville Theatre, Palmyra ·
Presented by Melville Theatre ·

A deeply moving and sometimes confronting play from Tim Winton comes to Melville Theatre this February. Directed by Kayti Murphy, Shrine is set on WA’s south coast and explores the themes of love, grief and the way those who have passed endure through the memories of the living.

The play tells of a couple struggling to recover from the loss of their son Jack – a year later, all they have left is a scar on a tree next to a roadside shrine and an abundance of unanswered questions. But then a young woman named June turns up on the doorstep with a story about their son’s final hours.

“Shrine is not only about the irrevocable way the grief of a loved one changes us but also the ways in which those who have passed can reveal new things about themselves, even in death,” Murphy said.”That was the key for me – it would be hard to just put on a play about two people grieving the death of their son. The intrigue of June’s story drives the play forward, exploring what really happened in Jack’s final hours. She needs to tell her story and Jack’s father needs to hear it.”

The main challenge, according to Murphy, is ensuring there is light with the dark. “There is so much love, intrigue and mysticism in this show, she said. “I wanted to make sure this is just as significant as the darker moments of a parent’s grief.”

After studying theatre and drama at Murdoch University, Murphy appeared in numerous productions and was one of the principal cast in the community TV series Love on the Box.In 2013, she performed in Noel Coward’s Hands Across The Sea at Melville Theatre and A Conversation at the Old Mill Theatre, winner of the 2013 Milly Award for best play. Murphy followed up those roles in 2014 with Cosi at Phoenix Theatre and Ninety at Garrick Theatre, along with The Temperamental Artist, Love, Loss and What I Wore, Death and the Maiden and Stop Kiss.

“As soon as I read Shrine, I knew it was something special and wanted to bring it to the stage,” she said.”Tim Winton’s writing beautifully encapsulates the WA landscape so much that it is an extension of the characters themselves. “You can feel, through his writing, the magic and majesty of nature and how it can shape us while showing us how interconnected we all are. Every character has a sense of responsibility about what happened to Jack that night and they are all dealing with it in their own ways.”

Tim Winton’s Shrine plays at 8pm February 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 28, March 1 and 2
with a 2pm matinee February 24. Bookings on 9330 4565 or at

Melville Theatre is on the corner of Stock Road and Canning Highway, Palmyra.

More info:

June (Jessica Brooke) reflects on the death of Jack (Chris Colley) in Tim Winton’s Shrine.

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Film, News, Visual arts

Behind the magic

The film Breath, based on the Tim Winton novel of the same name, opened in cinemas around the country last month. Set in a fictional town in WA’s South-West, the film was made on location in Denmark. Nina Levy caught up with local production manager Georgina Isles to find out about the nuts and bolts of making a film like Breath.

Georgina. Isles
‘Breath’ Production manager, Georgina Isles

One of the strange things about singing in a community choir is that you tend to forget that your fellow choristers have lives outside the weekly rehearsals. And so, back in February 2016, when my choir friend George announced that she was heading down to Denmark for three months to work on a film, I was not just impressed but amazed.(You mean you’re NOT a full-time alto?)

Cut to 2018 and suddenly I’m seeing the shorts for Tim Winton’s Breath. It’s a bit of a stellar line-up, with a cast that includes the film’s director, Simon Baker, as well as Richard Roxburgh and Rachael Blake.

And that’s when I remember my choir friend George…  although I have no idea what her role was, I’m pretty sure that the film she was working on was Breath. OMG! Excitement! A Facebook message later, I am enlightened. She certainly did work on Breath, she was the film’s production manager, and yes, she’s happy to talk to me about working on the film.

Preparing for the interview, I realise that I haven’t a clue what a production manager does, although it sounds impressive and important. So that’s my first question to George, whose full name (another thing that often gets overlooked at choir) is Georgina Isles.

“For a smaller feature film, a production manager is responsible for hiring the crew and managing them, in conjunction with the producers,” explains Isles. “They manage the money and the flow of money, but they don’t make creative decisions – that has to be done with the producers or the director. It’s a lot of HR stuff too – so if someone needs to be fired, for instance, you have to manage that.”

Richard Roxburgh as Mr Pike and Samson Coutlter as Pikelet in ‘Breath’. Photo: David Dare Parker.

While Isles is at pains to emphasise that the production manager is an office role, listening to her talk, it’s clear that – desk-bound or not – the production manager is the oil of the film-making machine. “The production manager runs the production office and that’s the heartbeat of the production.” she says. “It’s project management. You have information that needs to be distributed to the moving parts, so they all do the things they need to do. You have to check up on all the departments to make sure that they are functioning properly. You have to make decisions about where to spend money, and where not to. If someone isn’t happy, you need to talk to them – I’ve been in situations where there’s been bullying on set, for example, and I’ve had to intervene (that wasn’t on Breath).”

Even though the production manager isn’t directly involved in the artistic side of making the film, a detailed understanding of film-making is vital for the role, says Isles. “As with managing any project you have to understand what the project needs to be completed. Because I’ve worked in the film industry for 15 years, I know the moving parts. That’s understanding at a personal level, and knowing your crew, but also understanding from a film-making perspective what things are. So it’s not just a matter of saying, ‘That’s too expensive, we can’t have it.’ It’s knowing, well that is expensive but it’s going to look amazing.”

Samson Coulter as Pikelet in ‘Breath’. Photo: David Dare Parker

In Breath, for example, says Isles, there are a number of shots from drones. “Drones cost heaps of money and every time you’re booking them, you say, ‘oh these drone guys, they cost so much!’ But then you watch the film and you’re blown away by how beautiful it is. So you need to know what you’re making.”

Even if one hasn’t seen Breath, anyone who has experienced the wild beauty of the Great Southern coastline should be able to imagine why those shots are something special. How wonderful, to have the opportunity to work in such a location.

Ben Spence (Loonie) and Samson Coulter (Pikelet) in ‘Breath’. Photo: David Dare Parker.

“Denmark is stunning,” agrees Isles. “Working there was lovely. On your day off you’d go to the beach, to the forest, or up Monkey Rock, or to a beautiful restaurant or winery, or to the brewery. All our accommodation was really nice – we rented people’s houses mostly. The town itself was super welcoming. Everyone was stoked that we were there. We had a number of local people on the crew.”

One of the challenges of working on location, though, is the weather, says Isles. “There are scenes in the film that needed rain [and it was raining] but we needed it to be consistent and we needed it to rain on cue… and so we had to get a rain machine. That happens all the time in film.”

Presumably, too, there are days when the scenes scheduled require dry weather but it’s wet… what happens then? Isles explains that there always have to be contingency plans. “If you’re shooting outside and it’s not supposed to be raining but it’s a rainy day, you have to have scenes you can shoot inside [that you can work on instead]. So you ensure that there are things are on the schedule that you can actually shoot. It’s all about scheduling.”

It all sounds so… practical. “The logistics of film-making is all common sense,” Isles concurs. “The magic is in the camera moves and the lighting and the performances and the sound design and choice of music… and the production design, and the way the production design is then handled by the camera and how the actors move through those spaces. The magic isn’t in the scheduling but you need those strong foundations in order to allow those things to move freely… and that’s what we do.”

Breath opened in cinemas 3 May.

Pictured top: Samson Coulter as Pikelet in “Breath”. Photo: Nic Duncan.

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