Puppets – they’ve come a long way since Punch and Judy. In fact, I would go so far as to say the ‘puppet renaissance’ has been busily playing itself out for a few years now, with local Brisbane theatre company the Dead Puppet Society at its helm.
Always hard at work creating new and wonderful ways for humans to help their puppets tell a story, the latest offering from the Dead Puppets is the delightfully magical Argus, a 45 minute children’s piece, playing as part of the Powerkids festival at the Brisbane Powerhouse this June.
Argus, directed and designed by David Morton, doesn’t use traditional puppets. Rather the protagonists and all supporting cast members are created using human hands. There are four pairs of hands to be precise, those belonging to Liam Howarth, Samuel Whatley, Ben Newth and Laura Hague. The cast intertwine seamlessly and unobtrusively to give life to Argus, an endearing creature reminiscent of Disney’s Wall-E or Spielberg’s E.T.
The creature and his friends are busy trying to make a place for themselves in the human world, when all but our protagonist are whisked away by a garbage truck. What follows is an epic and dangerous quest wherein the creature traverses the desert, the snow, the depths of the ocean, and even outer space to find his friends and rescue them. Along the way he meets a host of amusing secondary characters, and even manages to be part of a real life game of space invaders (cue collective giggle from grown-up punters.)
The props in the show are created using simple household objects and small toys; it’s all quite cute and clever, and Whitney Eglington‘s lighting design is equally so. This is the first time I’ve seen a row of hanging water bottles used to create a beautiful underwater effect and, with a bit of luck, it won’t be the last.
The original score, written by John Babbage and played live by the marvellous Topology, is wonderfully atmospheric and works in partnership with the cast to give Argus life. A mention must be made of dramaturg Richard Tulloch, whose work is evident.
Narrative-wise the show dotted its ‘i’s and crossed its ‘t’s. There can be plot holes and moments of laziness in children’s theatre (“Oh, we’ll just pretend that happened – it’s magic kind of thing”) but Argus is so well put together and complete in itself. I often sit through children’s shows being harassed on both sides by the inevitable “What’s going ooooon mummy?” “Why are they doing that/going there/saying this?” not to mention the ever-frustrating, “I don’t get it mum, this is boring.” William, my 4 year old, sat through Argus without a peep, managed to stay awake, and spent the ride home making jelly-fish swim around the car- with his hands. Can’t complain.
Congratulations to the Dead Puppet Society, I hope this is only the beginning for the bite-sized Argus, and that it is given new life as a piece for all ages, perhaps as part of a double bill? I’m sure the Dead Puppets and their humans have enough up their sleeves to fill anyone’s evening.