Last week, the Western Australia arts community mourned the passing of State Living Treasure, master puppeteer and one-time Artistic Director of Spare Parts Puppet Theatre Noriko Nishimoto. The Japanese theatre-maker was the company’s founding puppetry master and was recognised globally for her contribution to the art form.
In the same week, I See Red, the co-production with the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, opened at Spare Part’s theatre space in Fremantle. A public showing of daring and unusual work, the program featured nine short re-imaginings of the fairytale Little Red Riding Hood. Each kept under five minutes, the loose interpretations of the original text were the end product of this semester’s puppetry and visual theatre unit at WAAPA, the only course of its kind in Australia.
Under the direction of Spare Parts’ long-time Artistic Director and CEO Philip Mitchell, the predominantly female cohort animated the black box theatre with a series of unexpected and infinitely creative performances. Featuring wildly different concepts and puppetry, these adult works were vignettes rather than fully developed dramatic works.
The series began with Emily De Margheriti and Morgan Owen’s work Age of Consent. Using only a washing line in dawn light, the two performers danced in and out of the drying sheets, using red cloth to reference the traditional practice of publicly hanging wedding-night sheets to prove a woman’s virginity.
Next was Red/Forest, which stood out for having well studied and replicated the movement and stillness of the canine. Performed in near darkness, Jessica Russell and Salacia Briggs-Goodridge began on opposite sides of the stage, before prowling to join one another and form one mesmerising wolf. The huge wolf head they had created, eyes lit by small torches, was utterly convincing and made for an imposing presence on stage.
Third, Tainted Fur saw the huntsman in old age slowly clambering up a ladder to peruse the wolf pelts, his conquests, hanging in his wardrobe. Rudolf Hendrikx’s manipulation of the puppet and his Slavic mumblings had the audience laughing, until a caped wolf, Gala Shetsov with a gun in place of a head, intruded onto stage and shot him.
You’re Making Me Blush saw two girl scouts at play, destroying a wolf-shaped piñata but finding only sand and disappointment in place of treasure. Reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, Laura Cameron and Reilly O’Bryne were sweet as wide-eyed and bubbling youth.
The most moving work was Jennah Bannear’s solo performance Little Blue. Struggling with PTSD, Little Red no longer dares go outside to play in the the aftermath of the traditional tale. Remorseful and guilty for having caused the death of her grandmother, the traumatised child is animated and comforted by Bannear performing as her mother.
Cheeky and darkly comic, Apple of His Eye saw Little Red as a red apple floating through a lupine intestinal track. In this version, where the huntsman never rescued her and Red got eaten, she meets Granny Smith, sausage links and steak along her journey through the body. Clare Thomson and Adrienne Patterson’s curious interpretation received a lot of laughs.
Sitting before a vanity littered with beauty products, Sarah Pantlin’s highly entertaining piece The Hunt saw her use hand creams, perfume and lipstick to impersonate a selection of farmyard animals. Each screamed in agony when she unscrewed their lid and used them, a possible criticism of animal testing, before Pantlin eventually mounted the table and howled in canine ecstasy.
Behind the Camera delivered the most overt and powerful statement of the night, with Amy Murray and Phoebe Sullivan posing as predatory casting agents, assumedly male, making increasingly sexualised demands of the (unseen) young actress auditioning before them. Seeking to play the role of Red Riding Hood, the woman initially refuses their pornography but relents when they threaten to replace her with a more willing girl also hoping to get a start in the acting industry. Here, the camera becomes the preying wolf.
Finally, and first among equals, was (Don’t Go) Down to the Woods by Daniel Dosek and Hollie Hines. Inspired by the iconic giraffe Healthy Harold and the musical Avenue Q, Dosek presented as an enthusiastic primary school teacher manipulating a fiery green hand puppet called Safety Susan. From Susan’s hilarious opening line, this piece starred and finished strongly with delicate shadow puppetry and Hines’ sinister, eerie crooning.
Dressed with dramatic lighting and economic sets, each of the works was well-presented. It is always a pleasure to enjoy the unbridled genius of WAAPA’s students along their journey to become full-fledged creatives. The puppets these students brought to life were a lot like breast implants. You knew they were fake, but you couldn’t stop watching.
Words by Samuel J. Cox
‘I See Red’ ran for two nights at the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, Fremantle.