The smallest theatre in town with the biggest legacy, La Mama hosted The Melbourne Festival Of Puppetry 2017 over the winter school holidays and the delights were manifold. Approaching through a ‘marketplace’ of tiny stalls and puppetry booths, we’d later be smitten by a range of free mini-plays in the night, including roving performers. The overall presentation was ‘bonsai magic’ – tiny lives captivate.
A Quarreling Pair: A Triptych of Small Puppet Plays, a play for adults created in 2004, reshowed as part of La Mama’s 50th anniversary celebrations. The work takes its title from a story by American writer Jane Bowles, about intimacy and independence between two female characters, toured to regional Victoria, Sydney, New York and Rome. Adding two plays by Australian writers Lally Katz and Cynthia Troup, this triptych about sisters presented black comedy in delicate ways.
A timber 20th century dressing table was the set with two female marionettes in their separate ‘bedrooms’ on its top. Actor Caroline Lee and Puppeteer, Sarah Kriegler’s dextrous handling of their ‘cast’ were visibly part of the show. Through bemused enlightenment, the audience saw the stories performed inside, on and through the piece of furniture, admiring the physicality of these guides, whose bodies hung in the air as they reached through the unit!
A packed house marvelled at the marionettes’ animation as they talked and danced atop the table. Knitted out in the most detailed costuming, we marvelled at the attention given in this tradition-of-the-small. The actor’s voices and facial expressions made these pieces of timber and fabric seem human. The sound score complemented their drama and props were playful and evocative, rendering the known world in minute form. These effects, combined with touching storylines, saw us fully focussed on the drama-imagine a milkman with two voices inside his head as opposing characters!
Outside, we were entertained by a group of shows. A strolling peasant led the way, with a potato sack hunchback, a curtained ‘theatre’ above her face, and rooftop turret atop her head out of which marionettes pop out to speak! The Anti-Capitalists’ night at the cinema, with their Boxing Day Sales song, entranced, and a bachelor’s date-night prep was cuteness personified as finger-puppertery.
Tiny articles hanging from strings, and faces with fabric moved by hands, stories told in the space of a flat screen, yet it was the inner lives of these ‘little people’ which captivated, deeply and whimsically. In a world fixated with the digital, we saw that hands-at-play still had the power to take us into other worlds.
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold and non-traditional performance platforms. On the street or in a box seat, she looks for quality works that push the envelope.
A Quarreling Pair: A Triptych of Small Puppet Plays ran 6-9 July (60 minutes) at La Mama Theatre. The venue is accessible (on booking).