Terrapin Puppet Theatre
Playing at the Theatre Royal Hobart
By Gai Anderson
Big Baby the latest show from Terrapin Puppet Theatre, is an evocative multilayered piece of puppetry and visual theatre created for children and families. Directed by Sam Routledge and written by Van Badham, the show explores notions of vulnerability and power through the journey of the Big Baby and his father.
Playing with changes of scale, the talented team from Terrapin use a variety of hands-on puppetry and visual techniques including, live microscopic digital projections, video, bunraku, object and silhouette shadow puppetry, as well as comic live, acting sequences reminiscent of the silent film era. Refreshingly free of text, an emotionally evocative soundtrack – including the original music of composer Heath Brown – largely drives the show’s narrative.
Playing with the dichotomy of the cute and the monstrous, I’m not sure I liked the baby at first, with its ravenous appetite and not-so-cute visage. Yet this contradiction of empathy is cleverly transformed through a range of references and contexts throughout the piece. For example, we see the baby in relation to the nasty childcare worker and also his struggling loving father, and then later the baby becomes the lost child in the wilderness, and finally a super hero fighting the monster in the style of a B-grade Japanese sci-fi movie. However at times these jumps are so big they are confusing and I would have perhaps liked a few more signposts to help me through.
The performances are all wonderful, with Kane Petersen’s background in clowning coming to the fore as the brilliant Chaplin-esque father, whilst the multi-skilled Bryony Geeves shines in multiple roles, not the least in bringing to life the Big Baby itself.
Created to appeal to a wide range of ages, some of the audience seemed to really love the vacuum cleaner monster, but it didn’t really sustain for me. At times, the plot details also got lost between the various techniques and layers of story. But overall Big Baby is full of entertainment, humor and pathos. The show doesn’t shy away from stepping into the uncomfortable at times, is visually beautiful, brilliantly realised technically, and left me pondering its thought provoking ideas.