Review by Kate Gaul
The suspension of disbelief is a wonderful thing. Erth’s production for youngsters and their humans combines storytelling and wonder in equal measure. Lifesize puppets are animated in full view of the audience by four black-clad puppeteers. This is a story of our vulnerability as a race and the fragility of the eco-sphere. With conservation at its heart Arc has something for everyone.
An unnamed man sits alone in his room. It looks as if he maybe sorting and tidying after the departure of a loved one. He is definitely grieving. He is surrounded by cardboard boxes. The floor is carpeted, the room is silent except for his breathing, his words, his musings. From his imagination he conjures a series of visitors from the animal world. There are moths and the tiny Leadbeater’s Possum illuminated by torchlight. Hammerhead sharks and others trawl the waters that seemingly invade the room. Aided by powerful projections and rich sound score it is easy to forget we are in the theatre. A snow leopard visits. We meet an angry cassowary and some strange birds from New Zealand and a rare pangolin. Time suspends as these animals explore our human world.
One of the most effective moments is when 2 bed sheets, some fluffy white slippers and an exquisitely carved head become a captivating polar bear. Rather than frightening our narrator it’s as if he becomes a polar bear too. In a delicate and silent dance, they become one. Man, and beast. Not in conquest or competition but harmony. At this point the show really lands. With each encounter, the narrator comes a little closer to acknowledging his own feelings, and shares his experience with the audience to ask: what is most precious to you?
Driven by a special interest in natural history, indigenous folklore, sociology, and urban mythology, Erth makes puppetry-based theatrical productions and innovative community projects that challenge and inspire audiences around the world. Renowned for the integrity and quality of the work they create, Arc represents a unique addition to the company repertoire. The place of humans in the narrative of the piece and at the centre of the work.
The narrator invites a child from the audience to experience up-close some of the wildlife onstage. He shows the youngster how to greet animals by offering the back of the hand for the animals to sniff. They do. Then from the cardboard boxes explodes a rain forest of flowers, leaves, air-filled trunks, leaved and vines. The vines are passed to the audience and before we know it the theatre is transformed into a place of colourful wonder. The kids love pulling the vines from the stage. Throughout, the music and projection help fill the stage and our senses.
Finally, the largest animal of them all enters – a friendly looking grey elephant. Nature is resilient and we have the power to protect and preserve. Arc doesn’t hit you over the head with its themes. It gently focuses us on the future – with hope – and the understanding that our children will be challenged with what we leave behind. If you get the opportunity to experience any of Erth’s work – go! Arc is a work that will deepen in time and it’s a quality offering from one of Australia’s most exciting companies.
Image Credit: Jacquie Manning