Argus | Dead Puppet SocietyPhotos – Dylan Evans

Dead Puppet Society have typically been a company with better ideas than execution. This is not to say past productions like last year’s The Harbinger or 2010‘s The Timely Death of Victor Blott have been particularly lacking. Dead Puppet Society have simply had really brilliant ideas. They’ve struggled to synthesise into equally brilliant, rounded works.

Argus is the closest they’ve come. A funny, heartwarming production that marks the company’s debut attempt at crafting a children’s work, it’s as immediately charming and entertaining as it is profoundly ambitious and accomplished. The production may have been designed for children but, like Pixar, Studio Ghibli or The Muppets (Jim Henson’s Workshop having actually helped fund the work), it’s sweet and hilarious regardless of your age.

They’ve hit their stride by stripping back. There are no ten-feet-tall puppets. No animated multimedia interludes. No actual puppets at all. The original mandate for the work’s creation involved simply using the performers‘ hands and household objects to create the story and characters. Ironically, such a limited palette has seen them create some of their most stunning vistas to date.

With only four performers, a series of small objects and a revolving wheel of mini-sets, Dead Puppet Society recreate the depths of the ocean, the furthest reaches of space and everywhere in between. Performers Liam Howarth, Samuel Whatley, Ben Newth and Laura Hague expertly collaborate and intertwine to create seals, spacemen, sharks, cars, trains, giants, crows and other creatures over the course of the production.

It’s a testament to the power of imagination throughout. In addition to the unbelievably inventive dexterity of the cast, Whitney Eglington’s lighting design is full of lovely tricks. Light filtered through a series of water bottles creates a beautiful ocean floor, for example. John Babbage’s score (performed live by Topology) glues the abstract work together – full of nice cues to keep matters grounded. A blaring, atonal saxophone heralds the narrative’s antagonist, for example. It’s all fantastic fun.

The real coup for Dead Puppet Society is the story. Their previous productions have had difficulty with narrative – and those obstacles aren’t fully overcome here – but they’ve crafted a nice, simple little adventure story about a weird little character trying to find his friends that serves as a great platform for the work’s inventive approaches and gives a fantastic heart to the production overall.

They’ve still got room to improve. The narrative, while one of their best so far, still feels a tad under-developed. Occasionally, they underestimate their audience. A Space Invaders tribute is shoe-horned in for adult audiences but the production is already enjoyable enough without such lip service. It’s easily their best work to date, though. It’s hard to imagine anyone not having a grand old time with it.

Dead Puppet Society & Brisbane Powerhouse present

Venue: Visy Theatre | Brisbane Powerhouse
Dates: 26 – 30 June, 2013
Tickets: $24 | $84 (group of 4)

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