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andrew harper: terrapin puppet theatre

Jeff Michel, Sabrina D’Angelo, The Falling Room and the Flying Room, Terrapin Puppet Theatre

Jeff Michel, Sabrina D’Angelo, The Falling Room and the Flying Room, Terrapin Puppet Theatre

TERRAPIN’S LATEST SHOW CONTINUES THE COMPANY’S INVESTIGATIONS INTO THE NEW REALM OF DIGITAL PUPPETRY. IN EFFECT WHAT YOU GET WHEN YOU SEE THEIR NEW SHOW, THE FALLING ROOM AND THE FLYING ROOM, IS A SORT OF EXPERIMENTAL THEATRE AIMED AT CHILDREN.

As with Terrapin’s Helena and the Journey Of The Hello, there are ‘Wow!’ moments where I was impressed by very clever devices and nicely thought through ideas. The strong, clear narrative drives everything: Samuel Paxton, a young lad with a lot of energy and imagination, is being somewhat ignored by his grumpy family, so he tackles their grumpiness, and his loneliness, by making a wonderful machine that contains special spaces—the falling room and the flying room. Sam makes his magical creations by ‘fixing’ old junk from the back shed. He’s a curious fellow who exhibits a streak of self-reliance and invention—he might even be an artist in the making.

Eventually Sam moves into the shed with a big screen he can crawl into and literally be on TV—transformed into pixels but still present. This is the digital puppetry terrain Terrapin is investigating—a highly choreographed effect whereby an actor’s arms can reach into a TV screen and be seen on it—like looking at someone reaching into a fish tank, or even climbing into it. Puppets drift in and out of this screen world as well in a deftly executed bit of theatre that excited me. It was pretty clever but, vital to the narrative, never an end in itself. Sam effectively discovers re-contexualisation as a way of of re-making the world and even making it a bit better, at least for him and his dysfunctional family.

In fixing all the broken stuff in the shed—magically making something better rather than simply restoring its former function—Sam repairs his family as well. They all get together and play with his crazy machines. The distant parents recall falling in love, remembering its importance and that doing things together is what a family does. There’s a kind of healing in this play about about human interaction that could be understood in the imagination-ruled world of an eight-year old child and by any adult.

The cast had a lot of work to do: Sam was brought to life by Jeff Michel while Sabrina D’Angelo played all the other characters including the family members and the elf Sabrina who guided Sam about, all the while never speaking or quite being seen by him. More than comic relief—with her silent asides—for a primary school audience, she seemed to me like the boy’s muse.

D’Angelo’s direct communication with the audience and Michel’s wandering into the auditorium reduced the somewhat distant staging at the Theatre Royal. The theatre is by no means cavernous, but The Falling Room and The Flying Room is an intimate show that wants strong contact with the audience to get the magic flowing. Luckily, the show is built to tour 40 schools across Tasmania, so up close is how most children are going to encounter Samuel Paxton, his family, his magic rooms and his sneaky elf pal in their endearing world.

Terrapin Puppet Theatre, The Falling Room and the Flying Room, director Frank Newman, writer Finegan Kruckmeyer, performers Sabrina D’Angelo, Jeff Michel, design Rachel Lang, puppets and props design Greg Methé, sound design, music Fred Showell, video animation Solid Orange, lighting designer Reuben Hopkins; Theatre Royal, Hobart, June 10, 11

RealTime issue #92 Aug-Sept 2009 pg. 44

© Andrew Harper; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2009
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