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Review: A Bucket of Beetles at the Seymour Centre

Review by Rowan Brunt

Coming to Sydney as part of Sydney Festival 2024, "A Bucket of Beetles" is produced and created by Yogyakarta’s renowned Papermoon Puppet Theatre, a theatre company that creates work grounded in Indonesia’s long tradition of puppet theatre. Papermoon has toured this work internationally before bringing it to Sydney, and it really shows in the high quality of this charming children’s theatre piece.

On a Wednesday matinee, the Seymour Centre was packed with school groups and parents with young children on school holidays, eager to see this fantastical work. The set design of the piece is a simple backdrop of three curtains and draped fabric that looks somewhat like a rainforest forest floor, with trunks and fallen stumps. There is a quiet symphony of birds, babbling brooks, and wind as the audience filters in.

The story of "A Bucket of Beetles" was conceived by Artistic Director Maria TriSulistyani, and we learn after the show about the young boy in the production, Lunang Pramusesa. The story follows young Wehea, a little boy who lives in a big rainforest rich with life. Wehea, like many people who live there, loves to explore the forest and has a rich connection with the nature surrounding and holding them. This connection extends from the tallest tree to the smallest beetles; all are his friends. One day, Wehea, along with an old man, is out in the forest collecting beetles when he meets one special little grasshopper. Wehea helps the little grasshopper heal from a battle with other bugs, and together they go on an adventure into the forest, meeting more wildlife and exploring the surroundings. After a big adventure, a fire erupts in the forest, forcing the little boy and his village out, and all the beetles leave. When they arrive in the village, there is a moment of silence before the beetles slowly start to come back out.

The story has a core theme about friendship and the beauty within, but at a deeper level, it is about our connection to nature, begging the question: Are we genuinely taking care of nature?

The design and artistry in the puppetry are what make this work so appealing. It has charm coming out of the wazoo, even for the adults sitting in the audience. The puppets are incredibly detailed in the way they are made, mostly out of natural fibers fitting within the world of the forest. Papermoon also doesn’t try to conceal the puppeteers at all, making for an interesting watch as you see these incredibly invested actors and puppeteers endowing their creations with so much love. The lovely surprise was watching young Lunang, who is maybe 5 himself, coming out and operating the best friend beetle. The little boy puppets are interesting, as though they are clearly wooden in nature, the lifelike qualities they have with the voice of the puppeteer are intriguing to watch.

The composition of the piece was a constant delight, with a mixture of soundscapes and classical Indonesian instruments, really highlighting the atmosphere and keeping young ears engaged in the action.

"A Bucket of Beetles" is a masterclass in puppet theatre and the delight it can bring to young theatregoers.

Image Supplied


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