Left – Ruth Battle, St John Cowcher, Rebecca Bradley and Chloe Flockart. Photo – Simon Pynt
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre is getting back to the land this season as they present Farm, written by Ian Sinclair and directed by Philip Mitchell. Farm is a work that was developed through collaboration between Spare Parts artists and the farming community in the town of Merredin, and is now presented in Fremantle to coincide with the school holidays. It’s a visually rich story that captivates young and old through beautiful lighting designed by Graham Walne, evocative music composed by Lee Buddle, simple but poetic language by Ian Sinclair, and striking costuming by Matt McVeigh.
Farm is a story told through the eyes of a young girl played by Chloe Flockart who learns about the land through conversations with her grandfather over two-way radio (voiced over by Humphrey Bower) and through interactions with her mother (Rebecca Bradley) and father (St John Cowcher) as they build a farm in the sometimes difficult terrain of rural WA. The spirit of the land itself is embodied by performer Ruth Battle, as she appears in many guises throughout the show. Through puppetry, she becomes a kangaroo, or rain clouds, or a bushfire and interacts with the family by presenting challenges in the way only mother nature can.
Battle later emerges as “The Salt Man,” which is an allegorical character that threatens to ruin the land by turning everything into salt. The costume she dons for this particular portion of the piece is quite surreal and spooky, reminiscent of a creature from the Guillermo Del Toro film, Pan’s Labyrinth; she stalks and circles the farmer (Cowcher) with salt from her long appendages. This might be a little bit tougher on smaller kids to grasp conceptually, but judging from the stillness across the auditorium, it held their attention quite effectively.
In fact, much of the show’s content seems to be geared towards a wide age-range, and therefore provoked a lot of questions throughout. There were whispers of discovery and wonder from the groups of children all around me, which was absolutely delightful. There was a bit of wriggling across the room about half an hour in, but this was soon stilled by a bushfire and other swift action on stage. By all accounts, the young patrons were just as engaged by the story as all of us adults were.
Farm is a feast for the eyes, and Flockart makes a wonderful transition from the spirited, somewhat defiant young girl to the young lady that carries on in her father’s footsteps. Although Cowcher, Bradley and Battle have no spoken dialogue, their movement and expression speak volumes. There is a loving heart and respect for life close to the land in Farm, and it will surely plant a few seeds of creativity and revernce in the minds of those who see it.
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre present
by Ian Sinclair
Directed by Philip Mitchell
Venue: Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, 1 Short Street, Fremantle
Dates: September 27 - October 11, 2014