Jamie lives in the city, in a 10th storey apartment. Her parents, like all people who live high up in the city buildings, are busy. She is lonely and asks for a pet but no animals are allowed. She asks to visit the zoo, but it’s too late at night and didn’t she go there just last month?
Dispirited, Jamie goes to bed, dreaming of a bird she has seen fluttering around her balcony. The bird takes her for a dream visit to the zoo, delighting Jamie with visions of birds dancing, meerkats playing with their food, an orangutan slouching about and an elephant leaving a big poo behind! But none of the animals notice their visitor, distressing Jamie so much that she wakes up. Returning to sleep, the friendly orangutan croons a lullaby to her, only to be interrupted by a screechy penguin. Jamie plays with each of the zoo animals, before waking and meeting a new friend on a family outing to the park.
Many successful elements combine in this whimsical delight for young children. While Sarah Nelson and Ben Mortley bring physical comedy, elegant dance moves and assured puppetry to the stage, Lee Buddle’s mix of jaunty musical compositions, Michael Barlow’s clever use of the overhead screen, Iona McAuley’s simple and versatile set and Spare Part Puppet Theatre’s evocative puppet creations all come together to create a visual and emotional feast.
Nelson and Mortley interact well while demonstrating busy city life, puppeteers creating their own characters with facial expressions and slapstick comedy. Daring use of Heely’s Wheels shoes echoes modern childhood experience while maintaining high energy levels in an extended sequence depicting the hurried lives of grown-ups. The paired work in zoo sequences for meerkats and birds is alive with visual humour and impressive dance sensibility. Nelson creates an adorable Jamie, capturing the small child’s body language, head tilts and elongated wheedling vowels, and her typical responses to disembodied voices which, representing the parents, accentuate Jamie’s sense of loneliness and isolation. Mortley connects well with the audience as an actor, but loses himself in a compelling creation of the orangutan, bringing humour with sweetness. Both actors deliver lines clearly and slowly, perfect for the target age group and allowing the visual magic to come to the fore.
Lighting combines with music to delineate everyday experiences from Jamie’s dream, with the swiftly changing score ensuring proceedings never grow stale. Composer Buddle gives each animal its own music, from the frantic tempo of the meerkats to the waddling bounce of the penguin and the majesty of the elephant, echoing and complementing the puppetry and dance. Director Barlow’s simple video projections keep the context clear and provide movement and interest during pauses for off-stage puppet swaps.
The Night Zoo delights not only with its fantastic dreams of animal friends but also with its honest portrayal of Jamie’s childhood loneliness and isolation, in her crowded urban environment. Ideal for ages from pre-school to mid-primary and their grown-ups, The Night Zoo not only entertains while on stage but also provides a good starting point for interesting conversations with young children about families, animals and friendship.
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre presents
The Night Zoo
by Michael Barlow
Directed by Michael Barlow
Venue: Spare Parts Puppet Theatre | 1 Short Street, Fremantle (opposite train station)
Dates: 5 – 31 January 2015***
Tickets: $20 – $24 (plus booking fee)
Duration: 45 mins
Bookings: www.sppt.asn.au | 9335 5044
Recommended for ages 3+
***this production was reviewed Opening Night, during December 2014 schools season