50 minutes of puppets, pathos and devotion in a heart-warming celebration of a dog who waited.
Image supplied by Spare Parts Puppet Theatre.
Inspired by a true story from Japan, Hachikō celebrates a decade of legendary loyalty in a way that is accessible for audiences of all ages.
Professor Ueno works very hard and never smiles. His housekeeper frets that he does not eat enough, his students know him as a distant man and the stationmaster helps him catch his train each day by keeping a ticket ready for him as he struggles to make it to the platform on time. Life is busy, crowded and also empty for skinny, silent Professor Ueno.
Ueno’s housekeeper gives the professor a birthday present – an Akita Inu puppy. The yellow dog with a curly tail quickly brings a smile to the professor’s face. The professor names the dog Hachikō, and the dog becomes part of his daily routine, walking him to the station in the mornings and waiting to meet him there in the evenings. One day, the professor dies at while at work. Hachikō waits for him at the station… and continues to wait, every day, for 9 years.
Performers St John Cowcher and Jessica Harlond-Kenny are kept busy as they quickly change from scene to scene, switching out eyewear, ‘hairstyles’, accessories and portable pieces of set. If this isn’t enough, they both manipulate all the puppets, employing different puppet types and styles while acting. The energy of the pair is striking, Cowcher proving to be adept at physical humour as well as puppetry, and Harlond-Kenny hitting the right notes with a range of voices for her characters. Most impressively, their many characters – whether represented by puppets or acted – all come to life separately and accessibly.
The basic stage set is used to its full potential, a white board and a spinning tabletop with a series of boxes each filling a range of functions. The puppets are cleverly constructed and work in well with the simple narrative. Colour is used carefully and combined with simple props indicates the passing of time, through individual days, then seasons, then years. Characters are developed to enhance the simple story, with a sympathetic stationmaster, a nosy neighbour and friendly housekeeper creating Professor Ueno’s world, and a dogcatcher playing the token ‘baddie’ in Hachikō’s world of waiting.
Despite this, the narrative itself is rather thin, and depends on the interludes of busy city commutes, changing weather and rambling contributions from various characters to provide what feels a little like padding to an adult audience, but which may help younger attendees to keep up (as well as being well-performed). Simple lighting and sympathetic musical accompaniment bring further beauty to the many whimsical moments.
Slightly sad and thought-provoking, Hachikō is a thoughtfully devised and beautifully presented work from Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, an offering for all members of the family to enjoy and discuss together afterwards.
Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre
Director: Philip Mitchell
Animateur: Ian Sinclair
Devisor: Bec Bradley
Designer: Mat McVeigh
Composer: Lee Buddle
Lighting Designer: Karen Cook
Production Manager: Lisa McCready
Performers: St John Cowcher and Jessica Harlond-Kenny
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, Fremantle