The Harbinger (Dead Puppet Society)
Arts Centre Gold Coast
October 9 – 10
Let’s begin with a disclaimer: I don’t like puppets. It’s not that they scare me or anything like that; I just find them boring and prefer to see real people on stage. And you probably don’t get a show that is more ‘puppetty’ than Dead Puppet Society’s “The Harbinger”. But the play is also an enchanting with appeal to all ages in its bizarre beauty.
Visually, this is an intricate, interesting show, and there is a lyrical element to its story too – touched as it is with melancholic magic. “Once upon a time” the story begins, signposting its fairytale features, however, these are words that float like a blur comparative to the imposing image on stage where a large puppet man in a wheelchair sits alone tearing pages from books beneath an apple tree, in attempt to forget the memories that haunt him. The cantankerous bookshop owner, Old Albert, speaks with authority as a mostly mute girl (Kathleen Iron) enters his store but still little is revealed. Gradually his lost love longing is revealed through the power of puppetry as his stories are enacted in a myriad of ways, including through clever use of shadows.
The puppets are amazing in their detail as they tell stories within a story, as with many fairy tales. Beyond the smaller puppetry, however, Old Albert is the star of the show. Although he is guided by four performers (Emily Burton, Anna Straker, Giema Contini and, also providing his booming voice, Barb Lowing), when he faces audiences straight-on, his authenticity is quite remarkable, down to the smallest of details, such as his constant rhythmic breathing and ability to perform quite dexterous actions. And although there is a live actor on stage, attention never departs from his imposing presence.
Puppets have played a part in children’s entertainment for decades. And there is certainly that awe-appeal to this work, regardless of if they are shadow, hand or monster-sized. However, more than this, the show is abundant with allusions to gothic fairytales that perhaps can only truly be appreciated by adult viewers. While some audience members may find its pacing pedestrian, those who marvel in the magic of the puppet world will probably be entranced by the poignant sophistication of its storytelling.