I am a great fan of Dead Puppet Society. It has walkways intrigued me with dark tales and clever puppetry combined with the human element to create fascinating entertainment. But Argus, designed and directed by David Morton, is something completely different and challenging.
There were no giant puppets, or mysterious figures behind doors, in fact there were no puppets at all. Four puppeteers, Nathan Booth, Laura Hague, Matthew Seery and Anna Straker created the story and characters in this 45 minute show simply by using their hands. They used them individually and collectively to create the hero, an ET-like figure, his love, and many other creatures on land, air and sea. They performed in full audience view inside an angled circle that was mood-lit very nicely by Jason Glenwright.
Argus loses his love and searches for her, going through innumerable adventures, battling sharks and pirates, car crashes and many weird and wonderful creatures, until the inevitable happy ending.
The puppeteers added life to the characters with squeals, grunts, and sometimes plaintiff mewing to express various moods. The story was funny and sad – winning chuckles and the occasional “ahh” from the audience. It is a very family oriented show, with cuteness to entertain the children and deeper emotions to keep the adults occupied and amused. And the action was enhanced movie-style by the classy four-piece Topology outfit – John Babbage, composer and saxophone, Robert Davidson, double bass and bass guitar, Therese Milanovic, piano and Christa Powell, violin.
It is an intimate production that was lost in the huge space of the Bille Brown Studio stage area. It is also a forward-facing production, so people in the side seats, like I was, had a distorted view. Argus himself, a brilliant and fluid arrangement of hands and fingers from the four puppeteers, became broken and often disappeared into obvious hands and that destroyed the illusion for me. I think the production will work better in a more compact space.
For me, a regular theatre-goer who concentrates a lot on faces on stage, the unmasked faces of the puppeteers were a distraction. The dimensions of the faces, which were always in the light, were roughly the same as the hands. I found my eyes often straying from the hands to the faces too often. It would be better if the faces had been masked.
I spoke abut this to the puppeteers after the show who told me that masked faces had been workshopped at some previous performances but they found that the children to whom the show is basically aimed responded better to faces. They just didn’t like dark figures in the background.
The show, after its Brisbane run is off on an Australian tour and then sets off for a visit to America. It will be interesting to mark its progress.
Company: QTC and Dead Puppet Society
Venue: Bille Brown Studio, South Brisbane
Dates: 5 – 17 May 2015
For more of Eric Scott’s writings on theatre, check out Absolute Theatre