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Kai Raisbeck, Bryony Geeves, Sleeping Horses Lie Kai Raisbeck, Bryony Geeves, Sleeping Horses Lie
photo Peter Mathew
YOU HAVE GOT TO LOVE A SHOW THAT OPENS WITH A CABINET OF CURIOSITIES. CURLY TAPS, AN ODD LOOKING FLAG, WONDROUS WHEELS AND EVEN A BOWL OF APPLES ARE SET ATOP A PAIR OF ORNATE DOORS THAT YOU HALF EXPECT TO BE CONCEALING A BOG-STANDARD COFFEE CART. ITS ODDITY HARBOURS SUCH GLEE THAT GUESSING AT ITS FUNCTION IS THE PERFECT WAY TO CHANNEL THE EXCITEMENT OF A MASS OF CHILDREN ALL TOO IMPATIENT FOR THE REAL PERFORMANCE TO BEGIN.

Terrapin Puppet Theatre is masterly at this kind of stuff, for all the right reasons. They know their audience intimately. They write with them, collaborate with them and tend to fashion clever narratives peppered with just enough curious angles and obtuse twists to keep families engaged. With Sleeping Horses Lie, their latest two-hander, the story is of Sally, a young girl who plays tiger with fingernails of strapped-on felt pens, bravely navigating a world of adult indifference and fear. In a kind of classic quest, two storytellers enact the journey of her unsettling dreams using all the ‘he said/she said’ literary devices of picture books and bedtime stories. The narrators jump between characters to warn us that “this is what happens when shapes change shape in the night” as Sally reluctantly ventures to the park after being chastised for using house walls as canvas to her felt pen art. Putting on her best brave, she becomes “Sally Long Claws” and encounters friends and foe along the way, including a pair of trickster horses who give the work its title. In a fun narrative twirl at the end, Sally is eaten by the imagined tiger she so anxiously fears, but her ingenuity eventually wins the day.

The performance adopts a Victorian-era storytelling aesthetic, with the wow factor being Terrapin’s now trademark form of digital puppetry. In this show, the performers’ expert use of touch screen iPod-sized devices to project parts of Sally’s journey creates a kind of magic that works well—even with an audience saturated in animation culture. Terrapin’s trick is to keep the basics of compelling puppetry at the core, for it is the sheer delight of unexpected transformations—big and small, digital and mechanical—that keeps the fascination alive in this work.

This show demands a lot of its performers, however. To capture the curiously aloof air that marks the best of the Victorian story-teller tradition is not as easy as it might seem, and sometimes the performance didn’t quite match the promise of the material. With so much going on (including the base task of getting through so much text in so little time), there was sometimes a sense of being hurtled towards show’s end. So it was no surprise to discover the performance we attended was the second of two back-to-back shows and the final of a two-week road tour. Yet, for any actor who has experienced it, there is nothing so priceless as the collective gasp or giggle of children in a theatre. To make good the contract, they deserve only the very best in exchange.


Terrapin Puppet Theatre, Sleeping Horses Lie, director Frank Newman, writer Maxine Mellor, performers Bryony Geeves, Kai Raisbeck, designer Selena de Carvalho; Earl Arts Centre, Launceston, June 16. Touring Tasmanian venues.

RealTime issue #110 Aug-Sept 2012 pg. 44

© Mary Ann Hunter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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