Posts Tagged ‘puppetry


Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories


Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories

QPAC Presents A Barking Gecko Theatre Company Production

QPAC Playhouse

October 11 – 15 2017


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward



How does a story write itself?


It only takes a wish…


How weird theatre is, or my head while I’m in it. The ancient Greeks recognised the River Styx as the point between this world and Hades, and this with its ferryman, Kharon, is the image that fills my head as we watch Bambert, an impossibly small man with an enormous love for writing, cross over to the other side of the dream.

I cry, and usually I can brush away any tears before the house lights come up but something is different and I let them fall. Poppy hugs me – she’s almost as tall as me and as skinny as my grandmother, her great-grandmother, Ena; I’ve been thinking about her – and we don’t hang around, even though my friend knows this cast and I could race around with her to Stage Door to give every one of them a huge hug to say thanks for stopping by and stopping other things happening in my life for a little while. Katie Noonan’s exquisite cover of River Man, from Elixir days, haunts me for the next few hours, despite Poppy’s insistence that we listen to Next to Normal all the way home – I will keep the plates all spinning – and then, when we get home, the noise of the neighbours’ parties pervades our house, and our little street. This used to be a neat street…



Children’s stories make us think of other children’s stories, and this one, a Helpmann Award winner in 2016, brings up all sorts of stuff, including my hero, Mr Plumbean, and for some reason (because we get a sense of how simple and complex death is?), a favourite Little Golden Book about the changing of the seasons, The Four Puppies. And always, The Neverending Story. ALWAYS The Neverending Story. Some stories stay with us…


Child-like, old man Bambert lives in the tiny attic above Mr Bloom’s grocery store, writing his stories beneath the gaze of his friend, the moon.



“He realised that all his stories were just words on a page. All these years he thought he was writing himself into the world but the truth was, if Bambert knew nothing of the world then the world knew nothing of him.”


One day Bambert sends his stories out into the world, tearing the pages from his book and attaching each to a balloon, with instructions for the reader to send the story back so that he may use the postage stamp to give each story a location.


Bambert’s stories are rich with meaning. I enjoy the first one the most, about a headstrong, and socially, politically and environmentally conscious princess looking to appoint the next leader of her kingdom. She sees through the gimmicks of potential suitors who have been asked to give her the key to truth, exposing their flaws and fake news, and we are left to assume that she herself will take the reigns. Frightening tales follow this one, in which a pigeon woman in London, Lady Brompton-Featherly-Poselthwaighte-Huntington-Moore the Third, finds lost and hungry people to add to her collection of living wax figures, another in which two writers will have to put their faith in an imaginary child to escape their prison cell on a ray of light, and a brother and sister who will have to find their way through the stark winter forests of Poland before the Dark Angels (no, not those who frequent the fetish club, but something more like Dementors, or…Nazis), find them and force them into a deep hole in the freezing earth. And finally, it’s the tale of Taruk, whose drawings come to life as he completes them, reinforcing Bambert’s wish that creativity and good choices will change the world.


Directed by Dan Giovannoni and Luke Kerridge, who came across a copy of Reinheldt Jung’s book in a London bookstore and carried it with him for years of backpacking around the world before returning home to turn it into this show. (Kerridge’s other favourite book is The Little Prince). In these sophisticated stories, Kerridge recognised Jung’s simple storytelling device, that it’s the children who are the protagonists and the children who can save the world.


It’s a much darker show than you might expect to be seeing with the kids, but here are 5 things I noticed during the Friday night performance at QPAC’s Playhouse, which makes me consider how much we need darker stories told in a theatrical context, and how much we need kids to continue taking their parents to experience live theatre.

  1. we need darkness to see the light
  2. kids are more prepared to hear difficult stories than their parents appear to be
  3. kids are more comfortable hearing difficult stories than their parents appear to be
  4. kids and parents experience similar difficulties trying to quietly consume hard candy in boxes
  5. theatres should resist selling hard candy in boxes if they would like to maintain a particular quality to the storytelling and audience experience
  6. parents should resist accompanying their kids to the theatre unless they are going to follow their own advice, including not speaking or using phones during the performance because as well as being distracting to those seated nearby, the performers, who all real people exisiting in real time in front of you, can hear you and see you.


Of course most of the kids work out how it works before the house lights have dimmed.



The magic of Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories is not only in the allegorical tales themselves, but in the telling of them. Igor Sas is the thoughtful, gentle Mr Bloom, who intercepts Bambert’s stories in favour of seeing his small friend’s delight rather than disillusionment with the world. A talented ensemble play the roles required to bring the story characters to life. Tim Watts is Bambert’s gibberish voice and head and heart (and also, Lord Byron and the princess’s tall, gangly, funny father, the king). Amanda McGregor, Jo Morris and Nick MacLaine are exceptional across multiple roles demonstrating their versatility and flair for comedy and Bunraku puppetry.



Designer, Jonathan Oxlade, has created a beautiful, intimate two-storey set of intricate detail, which we would ideally have seen in the Cremorne Theatre, only somebody probably thought they could sell every Playhouse seat to any production from this award winning company (I would have thought so too). With ever-changing evocative lighting by Chris Donnelly, and a cinematic soundscape and original music by Ian Moorhead, there’s nothing about this show that’s not perfectly crafted and polished for audiences of all ages and sensibilities. I’ve seen nothing on this scale, of this calibre, for young children since Slava’s Snowshow and Wolfe Bowart’s suite of works. We miss so much as adults (and with an older child now), not even trying to get to similar work at QPAC’s Out of the Box festival for under eights or so-called “children’s theatre”. If only we could get to everything, and if only everything was this sweet and enthralling and entertaining. 


While you’re at QPAC, drop in to see Puppet People, a free exhibition in the Tony Gould Gallery with extended opening hours during the Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories season:

Saturday 10am – 6.15pm and Sunday 10am – 1.30pm


Laser Beak Man

Laser Beak Man

Brisbane Festival, La Boite Theatre Company & Dead Puppet Society

In Association With PowerArts

The Roundhouse

September 9 – 30 2017


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward



Laser Beak Man is a triumph on so many levels.


The mute titular superhero is the creation of Tim Sharp, diagnosed with autism at age three (now twenty-nine). His mum, Judy Sharp (Associate Producer), refused to believe advice from the experts – that her son would never speak or emote – igniting instead of ignoring, his passion for drawing. Sharp’s colourful world eventually became an 8-episode animated television series and now, thanks to David Morton and Nicholas Paine, the brains behind the award winning Dead Puppet Society, in close collaboration with NYC’s New Victory Theater, a 90-minute vivid and heartwarming stage show.



Known for their acclaimed productions incorporating beautifully realised puppets (The Wider Earth, Argus and The Harbinger), Morton and Paine collaborated with Sharp and Sam Cromack of Brisbane indie band Ball Park Music (Daniel Hanson, Dean Hanson and Luke Moseley). Sharp’s hilarious visual puns paired with Cromack’s original compositions, slightly reminiscent of the Beatles, create the technicolour world of Laser Beak Man, complete with the first free-flying Air-Orbs in the history of Australian theatre. One seems evil, like a Big Brother eye, and the other a friendlier vessel, for escaping and venturing off into the world. For Brisbane Festival and La Boite to premiere this family friendly, wholly entertaining and life affirming production is a coup.



The show is deceptively small and dark to start, contained within a black box built high on stage in the traditional orientation, without a hint of colour or drama or finesse. But suddenly, as the plot demands, the black is whisked away and like waking up in Oz, or stepping into Willy Wonka’s chocolate room, we’re treated to the digital visual spectacle of Laser Beak Man’s Power City (Design Jonathan Oxlade & Projection Design Justin Harrison with Sound by Tony Brumpton and Lighting by Jason Glenwright).

Power City was once the most beautiful city in the world – clean, pure, perfect – and local hero Laser Beak Man worked hard to keep it that way.

Drawing energy from the underground Magna Crystals that powered the city, his beak-shot lasers turned bad things to good. But now the city isn’t what it used to be and Laser Beak Man is thoroughly over it. That is until his estranged childhood friends Peter Batman and Evil Emily return and steal the Magna Crystals. Robbed of his super powers, Laser Beak Man has one last chance to reinvent Power City and save his oldest buddies before they destroy everything.



So the premise is a simple superhero story – Laser Beak Man and his friends must work together to overcome evil and save the world! – but the visual splendour and the cheeky characters inhabiting this place (and the talented artists who bring them to life on stage) are simply extraordinary. The cast comprises Nathaniel P. Claridad, Jeremy Neideck, Lauren Jackson, Jon Riddleberger, Betsy Rosen, Helen Stephens and Maren Searle, with a special guest appearance from Leigh Sales, her pre-recorded voice and her animated likeness anyway, as the Reporter. There’s not a weak link among them, and in a superior display of collective skill and connection, there are often up to three or four ensemble members manipulating a single puppet.



The script bubbles over with lovely silly comedy and some of our favourite puns include a series of terribly funny tomato puns, including the slightly vain hope after several minutes of them, that the projection designer doesn’t run out of tomato puns! Poppy forgets to continue reading the captions sliding by beneath the action and when I tell her later she laughs. She says, IT’S A KIDS’ SHOW BUT IT’S FOR ADULTS! There’s really something for everyone: while its innocence is refreshing, and totally fine for the kids (recommended for 8+), there are plenty of political references for the millennials and parentals.


Laser Beak Man, a Brisbane Festival highlight, is a delight for all the family, full of joy and optimism, and very obviously originating from the simple goodness of genuine hearts able and willing to turn their creative talents / superpowers into making the world a better place through good old fashioned high-tech theatrical storytelling.





QTC & Dead Puppet Society

Bille Brown Studio

May 5 – 17 2015


 Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


Poppy and I fell in love with little Argus in 2013 at Brisbane Powerhouse, where the show was the humble highlight of their PowerKids festival. You can read our original review, which reveals a little more of the story, here.


Dead Puppet Society created magic with this beautiful production, and we’re so glad it’s back! But only until this weekend so be quick! Book it! And then come back here to find out why you can’t miss this special storytelling event…




You know the feeling that flutters up from somewhere, tickles your heart and the tip of your nose, and bursts into a million bright yellow butterflies when you come across an old favourite toy or a ribbon bound bunch of love letters in the bottom of the box of special things stashed under your bed? THAT’S ARGUS.


It’s a gorgeous show, full of every emotion and offering the perfect solutions to global problems of displacement and loss. LOVE. AND LOOKING OUT FOR EACH OTHER. WHO WOULD’VE THOUGHT?



“If we’re together it doesn’t matter where we are. Even the dump can be made beautiful. We can have a party at the dump.” Poppy Eponine



It’s an ancient story made new by the simple retelling of it. A little guy – Argus – loses his friends and travels the world to locate them. Through his bright eyes we see how big and frightening and wonderful and awesome our world is. There are physical, emotional and ethical challenges – and big, loud, egotistical evil dudes wielding red spades – but there is joy in something as simple as a tiny flower and in the acts of sharing, and giving and receiving simple gifts.




Nathan Booth, Laura Hague, Matthew Seery and Anna Straker make an impressive ensemble, bringing to life every character with a deceptively simple arrangement of hands, voices and recycled kitchen things. It’s extraordinary to look away from the illusion, magically lit by Jason Glenwright, to watch four expressive faces, another entire performance happening above the performance space. Director and Designer, David Morton hasn’t attempted to hide the puppeteers, nor the musicians (Brisbane’s Topology: Robert Davidson, Therese Milanovic, Christa Powell and Composer, John Babbage). Babbage’s score encapsulates dreams and fears, and known and unknown places and people.



Argus is a little show with a big heart, fondly known as “the little show that could”. Argus is a gift that keeps on giving to audiences of all ages, moving us beyond words and worlds.





Dead Puppet Society Masterclass Series

Puppetry Masterclass with Dead Puppet Society



Limited places still available!

Submit your resume to to apply.



A unique opportunity for 16 people to participate in an intimate, 6-week Masterclass program with Dead Puppet Society, led by the company’s Artistic Director, David Morton.



An introduction to contemporary puppet forms (including object manipulation and table top puppetry)

Manipulation techniques

Devising processes for visual theatre

Integrating the live performer

Technically supporting a puppet-based work

(All of which will be structured through the creation of short puppet-based works).



Tuesdays 6:30pm – 9:30pm

26 March 2013

2 April 2013

9 April 2013

16 April 2013

23 April 2013

30 April 2013



La Boite Theatre Company Rehearsal Room 6-8 Musk Avenue Kelvin Grove Urban Village


$360.00 (includes all required materials and workshop booklet)

Please email with your resume to apply for a position.



The Harbinger

The Harbinger

The Harbinger

La Boite Theatre Company

Written & Directed by David Morton and Matthew Ryan

Dead Puppet Society

The Roundhouse

11th August – 1st September 2012

So did you see The Harbinger in 2011? Well, this is an entirely different show. But it’s not. This is Jurassic Park. It’s Fight Club. It’s The Sixth Sense. It’s lost none of its magic if you’ve never seen it.

The Harbinger

Director, David Morton is a Rubik’s Cube. There are a couple of squares not matching up yet but when they do, when all the pieces fall into place and everything comes together, Morton will consistently create theatrical magic. One day, he’ll find his formula. He’s a genius. With a plan. We see already (Brisbane audiences have seen it several times by now), the childlike wonder and the brilliance of his ideas taking shape and we know the best is yet to come.

I have the deepest admiration for these artists, for their craft and for the magic they are able to create. Technically, the show is brilliant. Dramatically, the story (and the story within the story) is poignant. This narrative didn’t affect me as the first one did but I don’t think Harbinger Virgins will be disappointed. In fact, I’m sure they’ll be stunned. It’s a bit like Cirque du Soleil. How do they do it? How do they make the acts every bit as magical as the last time we saw them performed? They reinvent themselves. Completely. Morton gets this. Only, his indie production was offered a main stage gig based on what it was. And perhaps it’s not all it could be…yet.

Despite taking this perspective personally, this version works. It works especially well for those who haven’t yet seen, as they enter The Roundhouse, Old Albert sitting there in his chair, enormous, sleeping and breathing. The first time I saw Albert breathing I was awestruck. This time not so much. But for new audiences, the magic is certainly there from the outset, to be discovered – and delighted in – for the first time.

This version is slightly more Tim Burtonified than the last (even the marketing collateral is more reminiscent of Corpse Bride) and the whole production has a darker feel to it. Ultimately, the story that comes from Albert’s vast collection of stories, which he writes over the years, is about hope. Before we get to the hope though, there is an awful lot of hopelessness to get through.

Previously, the bulk of the storytelling was achieved using extensive shadow puppetry, which I thought extremely effective. This time, within a larger space surrounded by an assortment of some 700 books, a storm’s aftermath of loose pages and an apple tree, we see a different, smaller story told via specially designed baby bunraku puppets. A rather abrupt opening has introduced us to the enormous, tired, old mean man (manipulated by Barb Lowing, Niki-J Price, Anna Straker & Giema Contini) and to an innocent, frightened street urchin (Kathleen Iron) as she runs for her life. She is not dissimilar in her manner to Molly in Rabbit Proof Fence, so that the image of a lost Indigenous soul is, once captured, difficult to lose.

The relationship between the little girl and the old man develops over time and we see episodic scenes – his memories coming to life – with the use of puppets and props that are brought out from underneath over-sized books, which hint at a theatrical treasure trove under the stage. We witness the younger Albert (Niki-J Price) falling in love and his wife, Adelaide (Anna Straker), at first full of hope and joy, starting to suffer in her lover’s, the writer’s, inattention. She dies in childbirth and Albert stays angry and bitter for far too long.

One of the most affecting moments is when Albert stops breathing. It is stunning to see Barb Lowing relinquish control at the moment of his death and maintain her composure, standing there as the story comes to a close, just as one would if one were in attendance at the gentle expiration of a human life, with the heart and soul and wings of an angel. It was even more interesting to see Lowing – an accomplished actor – relinquish the spotlight to a puppet. But she is humble (her humility and obvious adoration for Albert makes this a truly magical theatrical human moment). This is superb casting.

On a side note, it’s certainly an interesting creative choice to give Albert a voice. I’m not sure that I liked hearing him speak – he seemed so much meaner and I liked the openness of interpretation while he had remained silent – however; he was often as funny as he was mean and it was lovely to see Lowing’s expressiveness in lieu of Albert’s. At times, I admit, I found myself watching Lowing in preference to the puppet.

The performers are impressively proficient in their manipulative skills and are able to establish a wonderful connection with each puppet and each other; their synchronised emotional shifts adding to the pathos and equally, to the humour, which is largely delivered via the little girl’s antics. Her relationship with Princess Happy (Giema Contini) is brief, fast, funny and beautifully accomplished by both performers.

Noni Harrison (Costume Design), Whitney Eglington (Technical Director & Lighting Design) and Tone Black Productions (Sound Design) combine creative forces to make this one of the best looking productions we’ve seen this year, with gothic dresses and faces, and a soundscape and lighting design from somewhere within a dream.

See this new version of The Harbinger for its whimsy, memory, beauty, mastery and a new, sharper story told in a bold new way.

The Harbinger. Image by Al Caeiro