Thursday, October 9, 2014

Theatre: Moominpappa at Sea

by Tove Jansson
Adapted and directed by Michael Barlow

Creative consultant Noriko Nishimoto
Designed by Leon Hendroff
Composer Lee Buddle
Performed by Michael Barlow and Bruno Michel
Awesome Festival
Until October 13
(Recommended for 5+ year-olds)

To celebrate the centenary of the birth of the Finnish writer Tove Jansson, Spare Parts Puppet Theatre has adapted her Moominpappa at Sea for the Awesome Festival.
Jansson’s odd, whimsical tales of the Moomin family – Moominpappa, his wife Moominmamma and their son Moomintroll – occupy an imaginative territory also inhabited by the Babar herd and the Wild Things, with a little Nordic peculiarity thrown into the mix.
The Moomins are pale, round, irresistible critters with hippo-like snouts, recreated here with impressive accuracy as 50cm puppets. As manipulated by Michael Barlow (who also adapted and directs the story) they are intrepid, resourceful, optimistic – and a little bit formal.

 In this story, Moominpappa takes his family to a strange little island with a deserted lighthouse. He wants to become the lighthouse keeper, write a book about the sea, and find a new life for his family.
It’s no ordinary island, of course. It shakes quite a bit, and it’s visited by enchanting flying sea horses and the ice monster The Groke. There’s also a reclusive, grumpy, fisherman (Bruno Michel) on a rock who, we will discover, is hiding a couple of lights under his bushel.
Pappa sets about providing for his family, often with less-than-satisfactory results (“I’m very disappointed” is his most -repeated line, just edging out “I must do something tremendous”), while Mamma gets a garden going and wards off homesickness by painting flowers on the lighthouse.
Troll is more adventurous, and finds a forest glade where he meets the creatures that populate the story.
Barlow is a skilled storyteller, calmly taking his young audience through its episodes. He makes the Groke scary enough without spooking his attentive and engaged young audience, and gives good space to each Moomin character.
Lee Buddle’s music and Leon Hendroff’s small but versatile set add greatly to the show, and Michel, as well as providing the story’s denouement, cleverly manages its technical business on a laptop hidden in his rock.
Spare Parts are in a productive and artistically impressive period in their 33-year history, and the charming Moomins are a welcome addition to its family of puppet characters.

This review appeared in The West Australian 7.10.14

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