The Beak and the beautiful

Laser Beak Man (La Boite, Dead Puppet Society and Brisbane Festival)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

September 9 – 30

As “Laser Beak Man” begins with as a hole-in-the-wall style puppet show, I’m reminded of how much I typically dislike the genre. Then, the stage widens into a 3D dazzle celebration of Laser Beak Man, the colourful superhero created by internationally-acclaimed, but still-humble, Australian artist Tim Sharp who has autism.

Nathaniel Claridad, Jon Riddleberger, Helen Stephens, Jeremy Neideck, Betsy Rosen - LBMProductionPhotos2017-DylanEvansPhotography-280.jpg

The magical transformation comes as time transitions from the childhood world of Laser Beak Boy and his friend Peter Bartman, a world full of utopian dreams. With the years having then flown by, Laser Beak Man saves Power City from an angry tomato which enrages now-nemesis Peter towards villainy and theft (with sidekick Evil Emily) of all-powerful crystals. And so the story is set for a classic (super) hero tale as the mute Laser Beak Man sets off with a menagerie ensemble to retrieve the crystals needed to supercharge the city, and ultimately face-off with his now-nemesis.

Jon Riddleberger, Nathanial P. Claridad, Helen Stephens, Betsy Rosen - LBMProductionPhotos2017-DylanEvansPhotography2-33.jpg

The ambitious project sees both the story and Sharp’s stunning artistry brought to life by David Morton and Nicholas Paine, the genius creative minds at Dead Puppet Society, as part of a long term company residency at La Boite in between tours and a New York residency at the New Victory Theatre. And the result is outrageously entertaining. Transitions are seamless and rich production elements are on display in its every aspect, combining to create a compelling and moving narrative. Indeed, the storytelling is masterful, featuring complexity in its off-beat, witty humour, political allusions and visual puns for adults alongside exaggerated colour and movement for children. And it’s inclusion of free-flying orb helium-based drone objects (for the first time on an Australian stage) representing a hot air balloon and surveillance blimp, is impressive to all.

Maren Searle, Helen Stephens, Lauren Jackson, Jon Riddleberger, Jeremy Neideck - LBMProductionPhotos2017-DylanEvansPhotography2-52.jpg

Projection Designer Justin Harrison’s vibrant visual world is also supported by superbly considered music by Sam Cromack of Ball Park Music (performed along with Daniel Hanson, Dean Hanson and Luke Mosley), providing melodic enhancement through songs like the anthemic ‘We Found Strength in Numbers’.

Dean Hanson, Luke Moseley, Daniel Hanson, Sam Cromack - LBMProductionPhotos2017-DylanEvansPhotography-362 (2).jpg

The cast of puppeteers is incredible in characterisation of their puppet characters. Lauren Jackson makes Barbie deliciously down-to-earth and animates Amazing Grace as a feisty, free-spirited traveller whose advice to Laser Beak Man about the road to happiness encapsulates so much of the show’s thoughtful themes. And also of note, New York’s Jon Riddleberger, holds audience emotions in the palm of his hand as the adorable black sheep. Indeed, so absorbing is the show that you soon forget that the puppeteers are even there.

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Each year La Boite Theatre Company collaborate with Brisbane Festival to being a new work to life. But this one is particularly special and the elated opening night audience ovation accordingly provided the most heartfelt curtain call perhaps ever seen in Roundhouse Theatre.

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“Laser Beak Man” is a big show with a big heart, uplifting and full of utter joy in its childlike magic, message about not needing to speak to listen and attest to the important ideas of inclusion, equality and loving who you are. With its positive messages about embracing difference and affirmation of belief in a better, more inclusive world, it represents both all that can be powerful about theatre and exactly what the world needs right now. It is beautiful, important and the reason why art is made, and you probably won’t ever see anything like it again.

Photos c/o – Dylan Evans

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