May 31, 2015

Puppeteers delight youngsters with the whole world in their hands

Come Out Children’s Festival
May 22 – 30.

Dead Puppet Society
Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
May 23.

A Kid Like Me
Presented by True North Youth Theatre Ensemble
The Parks Theatre, Angle Park
May 20.

History of Autism
by Julian Jaensch
Company@ Autistic Theatre
The Opera Studio, Netley
May 30.

The biennial Come Out Children’s Festival has been an Adelaide fixture since 1974 and it gathers in tens of thousands of children, from littlies to high school students, for nine days in May. The activities, covering all artforms, are linked with school programs, regional hubs and, conspicuously again this year, have been concentrated in and around the Adelaide Festival Centre.

Come Out has always offered first-rate performances and this time, the engaging, and drolly named, Dead Puppet Society captured young audiences with Argus, a journey of tribulation and friendship depicted with a maximum of invention and a minimum of artifice. Directed and designed by David Morton, this work gives the idea of hand puppetry new meaning.

Shrouded in black, the four presenters – Matthew Seery, Nathan Booth, Anna Straker and Laura Hague- combine fists, fingers, splayed hands and one hand folded at the second knuckle to make a composite figure –Argus, complete with enquiring LED eyes, searching for his lost friends.
His journey takes him from beach to desert, to the ocean floor and outer space, as the eight hands wittily morph into flocks of birds, schools of fish and numerous crazy critters. With splendid music, composed by John Babbage and performed by Topology, the Dead Puppets’ lively use of simple objects, lights, bubbles, fingers, thumbs, and sheer imagination is a delight.

Other notable productions were community works devised and presented by young performers themselves. History of Autism, written, directed and performed by the ebullient Julian Jaensch with his support Company@, is a timely reminder, using sketches, commentary and video documentary, that the history of the diagnosis of what is now called Autism Spectrum Disorder has been a bumpy one.

There are heroes, from the pioneer doctors, Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger, to the breakthrough work of Dr Lorna Wing. But no less heroic are the fourteen ensemble members who not only reveal a hidden history but eloquently share their own stories with dignity and quiet pride.

A Kid Like Me, presented by the twelve member True North Youth Theatre, directed by Alirio Zavarce (whose excellent production, Sons and Mothers toured widely last year) invites young audiences to identify and respond to common issues for young people. With a repertoire of six plays to select from, the audience uses electronic voting devices to choose themes relevant to them – Social Anxiety, Peer Pressure, Bullying, “Sexyfication” and The Future.

Expertly managed by Zavarce and writer Sally Hardy, with thrifty design by Kathryn Sproul, A Kid like Me is a version of Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre at its enjoyable best – vividly presenting life situations and giving young audiences a genuine chance to interact and register their opinions.

Murray Bramwell

“Puppeteers delight youngsters with the whole world in their hands” The Australian, June 3, 2015, p.16.

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