Left – The Harbinger. Cover – Niki J Price, Giema Contini, Kathleen Iron. Photos – Al Caeiro
The Harbinger by Dead Puppet Society is a macabre and deeply moving piece of visual theatre. It is a fascinating and tightly woven story that uses the sensibilities of traditional fairytale and puppetry to capture the audience's hearts. It will play with your mind, delight and raise the hairs on the back of your neck as you immerse yourself in the whimsy of the puppetry and the world created by the wonderful cast, production team and co-writers/directors David Morton and Matthew Ryan.
This is the second and further developed realisation of The Harbinger presented by La Boite. While I have no point of reference (other than the program notes) this performance is ripe and full storytelling at its best. The tale eerily begins with a young girl's scream as she narrowly escapes from the bony larger than life hand of Mr Nobody who hungrily pursues her through a chain latched door. Safe inside the dusty book filled residence of Old Albert, the Girl seeks refuge, however, Old Albert wants to be left alone. Old Albert's hard and bitter exterior is slowly broken down by the Girl and we learn about his stories and his history with wife Adelaide.
Old Albert's gigantic presence is one of many magical elements within The Harbinger. He looms physically (although he is seated in a wheelchair) as his majestic and large body heaves and glides across the stage. His vocal presence also fills the room and he is brought to full life brilliantly by Barbara Lowing. In contrast the Girl, played by Kathleen Iron, is waif and threadbare, yet her determination and stubborn spirit matches Albert's, creating a beautiful Ying Yang balance of young/old, male/female to play out. Niki-J Price as Young Albert, Anna Straker as Adelaide and Giema Contini as Mr Somebody and Princess Happy weave their theatrical magic as they manipulate and physically embody the cast of multiple puppet characters.
Every element of The Harbinger is darkly enchanting and enthralling. The production and puppet design by David Morton never fails to astound, as huge chests and books open up and the characters from Old Albert's past, Young Albert and Adelaide, emerge. Their Banraku inspired puppets share the lover's story of dreams, loss and sorrow. Perspectives shift and we are inside the fantastical children's story authored by Albert as smaller and more visually abstract puppets are flipped and floated across the stage to evoke fairytales and the humour within them. The ghostly atmosphere of the piece is beautifully delivered through the sound design by Tone Black Productions as well as the superb lighting design by Whitney Eglington. The costuming by Noni Harrison was also glorious, spanning from giant sized to doll sized.
La Boite's presentation of The Harbinger by Dead Puppet Society is magical and stirring theatre. The beauty of this piece lies deep within the visual spectacle, the storytelling itself and the way this talented ensemble challenges and seduces the audience to surrender their disbelief, and believe – believe not only in the life of the actors' characters but also of the puppets, as flesh and bone beings that live and breathe their lives and their stories on the stage. This kind of belief is all too easy to willingly submit to in the artisan hands of Dead Puppet Society. While The Harbinger is gloriously alive on stage at La Boite go and see it.
La Boite Presents
a production by Dead Puppet Society
Writers/directors David Morton & Matthew Ryan
Venue: Roundhouse Theatre | 6–8 Musk Avenue, Kelvin Grove QLD
Dates: 11 Aug – 1 Sept, 2012
Tickets: from $22
Bookings: 07 3007 8600 | laboite.com.au/harbinger