Left – Kathleen Iron. Cover – Kathleen Iron and Elizabeth Millington (puppet). Photos – Al Caeiro.
Dead Puppets Society’s The Harbinger is like one of those late night cartoons you saw on SBS or ABC as a kid. It’s gorgeous, a little addictive and more than a little disturbing – and that irrepressible uneasiness lingers in your consciousness for a good while after the experience.
Set within a decrepit bookstore, an old man (Elizabeth Millington, Anna Straker and Giema Contini) sits in a wheel chair, alone with his memories and his books. Outside a civil war rages; inside rats scamper across his body while he sleeps. One night a young girl (Kathleen Iron) hides away from the turmoil outside, and the old man shares with her his stories and memories. But within the final tale, the little girl appreciates quite a different and unsettling truth.
There are so many beautiful moments within the show, and this is why I enjoyed it. I was flooded with memories of watching The NeverEnding Story (well, even if the film had finished in the Swamps of Sadness… I think there’s a few people out there who will still get that reference). In the world of The Harbinger, drawings came to life, a giant old man wheeled himself around in a wheel chair, memories literally danced upon the walls and men journeyed across nations. Director David Morton wrote in the program notes that he wanted to create a show that was part theatre and part storybook and I think he has definitely achieved that.
I did have a little – well, maybe a big – problem in figuring out which storybook Morton was showing us. The team from Dead Puppet Society are obviously talented, and have found their niche in the market. But The Harbinger included so many kinds of animation and puppetry that it was almost overwhelming. As an audience member I felt like I didn’t have a chance to really emotionally invest in the story or characters, because I was so busy trying to comprehend what was actually happening. I think there is the potential for those strong gasping “whoa” moments, but getting lost in the technology meant sacrificing the chance to have that experience.
The other element that put me off guard was the relationship between the old man and the girl. I imagine it must be difficult acting against a puppet and I would be really interested to speak to the actors and director, and find out more about how they approach that relationship. I felt that the performance that Iron gave could have been a little more stylized to fit into the world that was created with the music, projection, puppets and set. The performance, at certain moments, borderlined that of a weak pantomime, and I think that both Iron and Morton are capable of more than that, and creating a more consistent heightened reality in their world (there were other moments in the show that proved this).
I really enjoyed the experience of The Harbinger. Looking at the production as a showcase of what Dead Puppet Society can achieve, and how they’ve grown from their past shows, I do believe they have a long and powerful career ahead of them, and I can’t wait to see what they do next. I think their aesthetic and style is an acquired taste, and if you don’t enjoy child-like horror blending with adult brutality interweaved within political themes, you may not enjoy this. But, well… I did.
I do encourage every-one to go out, see this production, make up your own mind and tell others what you thought.
La Boite Indie and Dead Puppet Society present
by David Morton & Matthew Ryan
Director David Morton
Venue: Roundhouse Theatre, Kelvin Grove
Dates: Wed 14 – Sat 30 July 2011
Times: Tue – Wed 6.30pm, Thu – Sat 7.30pm, Sun 17 July 5pm
Tickets: $20 - $28
Bookings: 07 3007 8600 | laboite.com.au