Finegan Kruckemeyer's most recent script for Hobart's Terrapin Puppet Theatre, Love, is, in it's best moments, charming and elegant theatre. Intended for a family audience, it has a number of levels of potential engagement, and they work very well for the most part – there's clean colour and movement in bucketfuls to entrance children – and some rather nice word play for mum and dad, or any older children. New technology and inventive lighting and staging create some mesmerising images, while the performers, Mel King and Jeff Michel kept the pace to a decent clip when I saw this show. It was not hard to engage and just be swept up in a charming story filled with likeable characters.
The simple but not simplistic narrative is the tale of Oslo (strongly puppeted by Jeff Michels) and his mum, the town they live in, the eccentrics that populate it, and an impeding disaster. The plot focuses on Oslo's mission to gather the Love Luggage of his friends around the town of Mellongong (a small town that could be anywhere in Australia), Love Luggage being the little mementos that represent stories of love, so as to save these precious things from the ferocity of an encroaching storm. Stories are told to Oslo along the way, and the complex nature of what love is and what it can be is explored – family, community, crushes and friendships all get their moments. Yarns and tales are told to Oslo along the way by his various mates in Mellongong. There's a couple of songs, some drama – Oslo leaves his return to safety a little late as the storm encroaches, but it all turns out okay, and the ending presents a strong note of hope about the power of communities to recover from disaster. Given recent events in Australia, this is interesting ground to delve into, and the upbeat message that community is made of people
There's lots of characters presented but I really have to note my delight at Mel King's Mum – this slightly over the top, enthusiastic, community spirited lady was so well realised I felt I'd met the person, and given how well the script nailed a very particular type (slightly eccentric hippy-ish mum who takes part in everything with sometimes over the top gusto), I probably have. Mum could have been annoying, but was instead rather endearing, and was vital in making the emotional content of the story really come alive.
Technology has been important over the last few years for Terrapin, they have been actively engaged in using a wide range of techniques and devices as they have emerged and become available. Love continues this trend but marks a change; the technology itself doesn't overwhelm the story, which I felt it may have done in some past productions. Here, the story telling and performances are enhanced rather and the driving vision is expanded on as the most basic traditions of puppetry became one with well used projections and other devices. There's a storm sequence where our tiny hero, Oslo, bears the brunt of a cyclone: puppetry, performance and technology come together well to serve the creation of strong and engaging drama; and my disbelief was completely suspended. This was one of many excting moments where I really felt I was seeing something very new, and that was an exciting sensation.
Love is a strong show with something uplifting to say. It's certainly a clear demonstration that this company, while re-inventing it's techniques with every show, doesn't discard where it's been, as Love really consolidates and builds on Terrapin's past. Terrapin are an interesting company who are committed to to producing new work, and when it works as well as Love, that's a good reason to be excited about what they do next.
Terrapin Puppet Theatre presents
by Finegan Kruckemeyer
Director Frank Newman
Venue: Theatre Royal, 29 Campbell Street, Hobart
Dates/Times: Friday September 16, 11am and 2pm: Saturday September 17, 11am and 2pm: Sunday September 18, 2pm
Bookings: www.theatreroyal.com.au | 6233 2299
Venue: Burnie Arts and Function Centre
Dates/Times: Thursday September 22, 7.30pm
Bookings: www.burniearts.net | 6430 5850