Sunday, April 3, 2011

WHEN THE PICTURES CAME

Terrapin Puppet Theatre and The Children’s Art Theatre of China Welfare Institute
The Playhouse Theatre, Hobart
April 1st
Gai Anderson

It’s hard to pitch a show for family audiences – communicating your ideas to small children through to their adult companions is always a challenge- especially when you add the cross-cultural and language factors associated with Terrapin Puppet Theatre’s “When the Pictures Came “, which is a Hobart – Shanghai co-production.
Add the complexities of “digital puppetry” , animation and live character-based clowning as chosen storytelling mediums, and you get a very challenging mix, which, more often than not in this case, borders on chaos rather than clarity.

This beautifully designed and slickly executed show begins with a playful introduction as a Chinese and an Australian performer speak alternately in their own language - and objects and animations fly and float through space.

But when the box they bring on stage reveals a strange and threatening sci-fi machine, we step into a confused and surreal world of four ugly narcissistic clowns who are never clearly defined and seem perpetually stuck in a state of fear and chaotic babbling.

Whilst their slapstick evokes some laughter, their continuous argument slowly escalates to unbearable screaming, which only subsides with the unexplained appearance on stage of a huge white screen … thank goodness!

This magical screen then transforms them into to startling colourful cartoon animations of themselves, and here some of the most beautiful and satisfying moments of the show are evoked :- a coyote flies out of the strong man’s mouth, the opera singer’s head is disconnected from her body to be thrown physically through the screen and out the other side, an animated bird flies across the screen dropping real feathers onto the stage, and the ugly clown characters are transformed into their happy, better selves.

However, all too soon we are back to the reality of the nasty machine and the live characters on stage trying to overwhelm it. There are some extremely beautiful and entertaining moments and endless great ideas in When the Pictures Came … maybe too many ideas.
But perhaps if I was a six-6 year- old Chinese girl sitting in the audience it would all suddenly become clear?

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