In a full house of school-age kids, Dream Puppets showcased their artful new production, a version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest as part of the Wheeler Kids literacy program at the Wheeler Centre. Founded in 1996, this company is highly experienced, touring extensively nationally and internationally.
We enjoyed a wholly immersive space where set, props, sound, lighting, and live performance allowed us to tap into our ability to create worlds with our own mind.
Suitable for all ages, we witnessed a moralistic tale told via an ancient performance medium — the puppet show. One which the Bard himself would have viewed via travelling performers. We gained an enlivening backwards glance into the imaginative universe from which our literary giant’s earliest ideas first sparked.
The wonder of The Tempest‘s moral fable of love, forgiveness, and personal freedom, was successfully condensed into a comfortable hour. The star here was Dream Puppets’ hand-crafted wooden puppets (some taking over four years to construct). I saw the best Ariel ever — a dragonfly puppet with a long tail and gold face. The Prospero puppet bore an uncanny resemblance to the bard himself, and Caliban, with his long dreadlocks, played on the legs of an actor!
The proscenium backdrop festooned with ivy and decoration created the ‘woodlands’. Dramatic props which stood for larger concepts, such as the ship; and the use of non-marionette puppetry (foxes with electric, glow-in-the-dark eyes!) created an onstage ‘world’ for us. It even included a pop-up stage for the marriage of Miranda and Ferdinand.
Simplicity was the form but sophistication the mode. All the magic of this adult play was communicated to the children, without an element being discounted. After the performance, the space was made available for exploration as the team spoke of their creative process. It was a delight to see the workmanship behind the wooden dolls.
A magic spell was cast over us by these storytellers, just as Prospero cast his to shipwreck his players onto his shores in order to tell his tale. We relaxed under their artisanal spell, with their old world skills, allowing our minds to ‘travel’ to distant worlds, suspending belief. The puppets seemed so alive when they performed. Where did they travel to when they slept? You’ll need to see them live to ponder that question!
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold and non-traditional performance platforms. On the street or in the box seat, she looks for quality works that push the envelope.
The Tempest showed for free on 12 April, 11am (60 mins) at The Wheeler Centre for Writers. The venue is accessible. Click here for more Wheeler Kids literacy events.