Meaty puppetry

Sue Moss

Terrapin Puppet Theatre, Meat Eaters

Terrapin Puppet Theatre, Meat Eaters

Terrapin Puppet Theatre, Meat Eaters

Insatiable: adj; incapable of being satisfied.

Death as a vocation. The constant hunger for seduction. Entertainment as commodity fetish. Dancing with the shadow self. Four works comprise the short, sharp and shameless motif of Terrapin Theatre’s latest production Insatiable: Meat Eaters (Angela Warren), Succulent (Catherine Fargher), The Dog Within (Terrapin artists) and Lian Tanner’s Corpus Nullius.

A soldier’s desolation is interrupted by an aircraft overhead. A body drops from the sky. This event instantly alters what was before and what is to come. The soldier and a praying mantis meet over the corpse. Both are starving.

Meat Eaters offers a droll yet confronting humour. In a subversion of instinct the female mantis has failed to devour her mate’s head: “Bite me honey, I’m through.” Her failure to cannibalise denies the mantis “the sacredness of death.”

Soldier and insect anticipate death. One through vocation and the other through instinctual patterning. Performers Kirsty Grierson, Michael O’Donoghue, Melissa King and Jacob Williams manipulate the mantis with impressive dexterity. A highlight of Ben Sibson’s sound score is the percussive clack of its segmented body. Humour and pathos are compounded as the mantis and soldier confront survival in a hostile terrain.

“You know nothing about survival” taunts the mantis. In a reversal of anthropomorphism, the man/tis tutors the soldier in cannibalism as a potential strategy for survival by pouncing and devouring an emerging cicada. Although denied self-fulfilment through death, the insect encourages the soldier to hone an instinctual capacity for life. The lighting shifts. Human omnipotence and moral conscience are reduced to a fade out and the sound of chomping.

The Demeter/Persephone myth is the starting place for Succulent. Mark Cornelius’ and Hanna Pärssinen’s projected images establish the territory of seduction: a filigree of leaves overlaid by shifting gradients of green. In the midst of this viriditas appears a red-headed figure in a red dress, and a single flower. The 2 figures are separated by a swathe of red lines, bending and attracting in a Möbius of inversion and desire: “I’m kissing your stamens/pistils all over my cheek.”

Flowers spill, enhancing allure and its aftermath. The Persephone-figure insatiably seeks the sensuousness of petal against skin. Her naiveté excludes any insight into how rapidly idyll can involute into threat. A strangler vine envelops her neck. Desire and awareness are mediated by darkness. The soul’s dark domain remains an adjunct to the girl’s metamorphosis from innocence to experience.

There is little innocence evident in The Dog Within. A human-sized boxer and a poodle serve as a device to bridge the interval. The audience’s delighted response to a panoply of canine sniffing and pissing affirms the intention of the piece—the corporate market’s insatiable need for entertaining and accessible images. The Dog Within is predictable and non-challenging but will remain successful with audiences. That is its point.

Lighting designer Don Hopkins’ subtle separation between light and shadow is integral to the performance of Corpus Nullius. The Terrapin artists operate bunraku puppets to portray 2 ballet dancers; one performing in light, the other in shade. The piece potently explores the concept of compliance with an imagined ideal. The containment of Corpus Nullius on a stage within a stage enhances the fragility, nuance, and sheer bloody-mindedness of the dancers engaged in discord between 2 aspects of the one personae.

Corpus Nullius presents the familiar Jungian construct of the shadow. The shadow self struggles with the conformist self’s desire to maintain socialised predicates of acceptability. Dance is used to measure the success of attainment through the perfect tutu, the perfectly held arabesque, and the perfect music. Conformism gradually collapses. The shadow rebels, breaks out into Scottish dance patterns and refuses to sustain the arabesque while uttering stifled screams of frustration. The shadow dancer responds to different rhythms and the potential of an alternate self. Neither the disapproving tap of a point shoe, nor a deathly shaking can control the shadow’s defiance.

Finally, against the pull and counterpull of discordance, the damaged wreck of the shadow takes revenge. A tunicate-shaped bag evolves. Chasing, waiting and snatching, the bag devours the classical dancer’s insatiable desire for perfection piece by corporeal piece.

Director Jessica Wilson has assembled 4 thematically linked yet diverse pieces. Insatiable continues Terrapin’s role of amusing and bemusing audiences through visual theatre for adults, which reflects the collaborative finesse of its performance and production team.

Insatiable: Meat Eaters, writer Angela Warren; Succulent, writer Catherine Fargher; The Dog Within, devised by Terrapin artists, Corpus Nullius, writer Lian Tanner, director Jessica Wilson, designers Greg Methé & Hanna Pärssinen, performers Kirsty Grierson, Michael O’Donoghue, Melissa King, Jacob Williams, Peacock Theatre, Hobart, Nov 14-18

RealTime issue #46 Dec-Jan 2001 pg. 39

© Sue Moss; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2001