'Living Things' is a wonderful production, quaint yet macabre, from VCA's 2007 puppetry students. At the heart of the work lies the "illusion of giving life to the inanimate", but also "the taking of life from the, apparently, living thing" – and what more apt a vehicle to explore this theme of life and death than a good old-fashioned murder mystery. Of course, it is a genre that is also ripe for stylistic interpretation – one of this production's great strengths.
Directed by course founder and lecturer, Peter Wilson (who, amongst other accomplishments, co-founded Handspan Theatre and was director of puppetry for the 2006 Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony), 'Living Things' has been co-created by Wilson and fellow lecturer Gilly McInnes in collaboration with this year's puppetry students (also the show's six performers): Michael Bevitt, Jenny Ellis, Conor Fox, Beth McMahon, Leonie Van Eyk, Chris Willoughby. When it came to the curtain call it was hard to believe only six performers had brought the entire show to life, although a substantial team of supporting production students and staff are also credited in the program, as much of a work of this nature is of course behind the scenes.
'Living Things' is a cleverly constructed, slightly surreal piece, where over the course of an hour unsuspecting puppets are snuffed out by various gruesome means one by one. A most enjoyable aspect of this production is the way in which the creators have woven the various disciplines studied throughout the year into a tale.
The influence of 'black theatre' is evident throughout, but in particular provides inspiration for a simple, but striking and entertaining opening sequence - the performers all in black, hidden in the shadows, with twelve illuminated, white-gloved hands moving like darting fish in a black sea (the 'jellyfish' were an audience favourite). Exquisite Japanese bunraku puppets are operated by black-clad practitioners hidden in darkness, while, inspired by 'theatre of objects', everyday inanimate objects are brought to life - notably a bloodthirsty briefcase and a cheeky suit that escapes from its wearer. At times the performers slipped out of their black puppeteer get up and stepped into the light to play characters alongside the puppets. This was an inspired move, giving varied texture and dynamics to the piece.
Well-chosen music and sound (themes to 'The Pink Panther' and 'Get Smart', along with an assortment of Hitchcock-esque, operatic and electronic variations) and masterful lighting (absolutely vital to creating the show's necessary sense of illusion) from Phil Lethlean beautifully complemented the dynamics of the onstage action, as did the use of colour and visual motifs.
For barely a term's work, 'Living Things' is a remarkable achievement, and a fine finale to a busy year of performances for these students.
VCA Production presents
LIVING THINGS - a murder mystery
Class of 2007 postgraduate puppetry students
Venue: Grant Street Theatre, VCA Drama | Grant Street, Southbank
Dates: Thursday 8 to Saturday 17 November
Times: Evening 7.30pm: Wed 7 Nov (preview), Thurs 8 - Sat 10, Tues 13 - Sat 17
Matinees: 2pm: Sat 10 & 17 November
Cost: $15/10 Preview $10/$5