A sweet tale of imagination and hope in an outstanding production, in which each and every element exceeds expectations.
Image courtesy: Barking Gecko Theatre Company
A new season opens for Barking Gecko Theatre Company with an adaptation of a children’s book involving puppets, actors and imagination. While this may sound like business as usual for the Perth-based group, the standing ethos of striving for excellence, selection of book, creative wizardry, integrity of the acting and the artistic vision behind Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories combine to produce an interlude of magical delight.
Mr Bloom is a grocer, specialising in sourcing quality goods for discerning customers. His small friend, Bambert, lives in the attic above Mr Bloom’s shop, surrounded by the characters from the stories that he writes in his big book and with a good view of his muse, the Moon. One day, Bambert becomes concerned that his stories have no place in the world. He pulls them from his book, attaches them to balloons and sends them forth with instructions for their return. His last story is a blank piece of paper, bearing the additional instructions: “It is my wish that this story will write itself.” The wait is agonising, but his tales begin to return to him, their stamps indicating their exotic new settings and giving his characters geographical homes.
As a group, the human performers form tight tableaux in the miniature set dimensions of the attic, as well as claiming the entire stage space as Bambert’s imagination fills the room. The rich voice of Igor Sas soothes while it narrates and then reflects Mr Bloom’s second-guessing and hesitations as the stories gradually return to his shop. Sas is physically suited to the welcoming nature of the role, and has the gravitas needed to perform the closing scenes with necessary emotion without becoming overwhelmed by sentiment. Tim Watts perfectly reflects Bambert’s quirky charms while bringing the tiny man to life in puppet form. Small cheers, well-timed noises and the small voiced excited chatter complement the movement control that captures hearts. Not remaining behind the puppet, Watts demonstrates his versatility by taking on roles from a creepily debonair Lord Byron to a pusillanimous King in hilariously designed costuming that rejoices in the actor’s spindly pale legs.
As actors and supporting puppeteers, Amanda McGregor, Jo Morris and Nick Maclaine all perform with a keen sense of timing and physical positioning to push the action along with good humour and charm. McGregor is menacing with perfectly timed facial expressions as Jack the Ripper, intelligent, calm and regal as Princess Maria and captures the spirit of hope as she travels on a ray of light in and out of prison cells. As the Lady Chamberlain Morris consistently nails comic timing and presentation, while combining necessary hauteur, noblesse oblige and uncanniness in her portrayal of Lady Brompton-Featherly-Poselthwaighte-Huntington-Moore the Third. Maclaine relishes the challenge of the quick change as he takes on the contrasting roles of all of Princess Maria’s suitors, conveys the ambiguities of human responses to war as the young artist Tarek and provides satisfying comeuppance for bullies with his abrupt reversals as the prison guard.
The initial impression of the show is formed by the intricate, well-finished woodwork of Onstage Arts set construction. Jonathon Oxlade’s set design has been respected and brought to complex, working life with an intriguing glass-fronted lift to the attic, magically curving staircase to the side and all manner of goods in the natty shop itself, not to mention the wonderful transformation to the workaday bench with the addition of flour, puppets and another of Bambert’s tales.
Chris Donelly’s lighting design is complex and constantly shifting to reflect the changes in scene, mood, pace and atmosphere. Particularly in the tales of the wandering light and the tale of the sinister waxworks, the plays of quantity, direction and timing of light and shade carry the key moments and drive the narrative. Ian Moorhead’s sound design perfectly complements the shifts in emotional intensity of the performance, following the dramatic changes faithfully and never attempting to diminish the impact of any troubling moments, further enhancing the production for children and adults alike.
While many other elements are worthy of high praise, a step further has been taken with the printed program for the show, epitomising the thought and care seen throughout. Not content with a synopsis of the play and a list of names, the illustrated program gives clearly-written insights into each area of the production. Key creatives provide suggestions for keen minds to try activities inspired by their fields, from prompts for idea generation, story-writing, bunraku-style puppetry and set creation to using bicycle lights and mirrors for home experiments in lighting design.
Luke Kerridge’s vision from the initial selection of book for stage adaptation to the fine directorial points to bring it to compelling life in front of audiences, conveys a force of imagination into hearts through Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories. Barking Gecko Theatre Company keeps the focus on children by creating a work that will leave adults surreptitiously dabbing at eyes as the house lights rise, tapping into the core of hopes and dreams within each of us.
5 stars out of 5
Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories
Presented by Barking Gecko Theatre Company
Adapted for the stage by Dan Giovannoni and Luke Kerridge from Bamberts Buch der verschollenen Geschichten by Reinhardt Jung
Directed by Luke Kerridge
Dramaturg: Matt Edgerton
Props maker: Chloe Flockhart
Original Bambert Puppet Construction: Hamish Fletcher
Lead Puppeteer: Tim Watts
Production Designer: Jonathon Oxlade
Lighting Designer: Chris Donnelly
Composer / Sound Designer: Ian Moorhead
Set Construction: Onstage Arts
Performed by Igor Sas, Amanda McGregor, Jo Morris, Nick Maclaine and Tim Watts
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA, Perth Cultural Centre
8-23 April 2016