Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Arc

Arc
Artistic Director: Scott Wright
Writer: Alana Valentine

Studio Theatre, Sydney Opera House
September 24 – October 7, 2022

The remarkable puppet-based production Arc, created by the inspired team from Erth, focuses attention on the plight of rare and vulnerable species. Each species, Arc argues, is of intrinsic value to the earth and in learning about them and understanding their wondrousness, the desire to nurture and protect them will flow from the well-springs of the heart.

Written for the young, who from their whispered oohs and ahs respond immediately to both animals and puppets, the show is enthralling. The stage set, a darkened and rather mysterious old-fashioned living room, is a signal to expect the unexpected and their curiosity is piqued by the momentary emergence of a tiny possum, by the hint of a shark behind the sofa and by a long furry tail sliding over the sofa back. Clearly they expect things to pop out from the boxes stacked at either side of the room and when the white bearded narrator (a passionate Scott Wright) takes the stage in check pyjamas, they anticipate that he belongs to the genre of eccentric enchanters.

And so he does, but with a difference. His enchantment is not of the supernatural kind but lies in his capacity to evoke through the words of writer, Alana Valentine, what is remarkable, beautiful, strange or comical about the procession of creatures that float, crawl, glide, fly or dart through this instant ark. He is not one of the happy Dr Dolittles of the fantasy world, but instead a man near despair, who grieves over an irretrievable loss. As he meets with each of the amazing creatures of land, water and earth he finds renewal and is inspired to defend and protect them against human carelessness.

Real magic lies in the silent black figures that slip noiselessly around the stage manipulating a pangolin, a pushy magpie, a trio of lively kakapos, or a belligerent cassowary without intruding too far into our consciousness. They pass through the auditorium, dipping and diving, hammerhead sharks across the heads of the audience as the stage is transformed into an undersea world. Manipulating the angle of the large head of a polar bear they make his dark eyes plead for more understanding, and the rolling of his body and upturned paws express a reciprocal joyfulness in human affection.

As puppetry, the huge animals are truly awe-inspiring, and the young are duly impressed. The Sumatran Pygmy Hippopotamus elicits the sympathy of the narrator, and support, as its ungainly appearance makes it a target of offensive remarks. Valentine has immense fun finding complimentary words that rhyme with the generally assumed unrhymable “hippopotamus” like “dangerous”, “generous” and ending with “splendiferous” – which indeed it is. The entry of a magnificent elephant signals the opportunity for the tiny Leadbeater’s possum to climb its long trunk, underscoring the incredible diversity of life on our planet.

A last-minute interactive element brings a young boy from the audience to participate in a scenario from neolithic times. As the narrator and boy sit close to a fire in the mouth of a cave we are reminded of not only how many animals pre-date humans – the polar bear for instance was roaming what today is Norway 120,000 years ago – but also of the many creatures that have become extinct. The lively and curious children of the audience embody the hope for a world where wilderness and wildlife are valued for themselves.

As the stage darkens we gaze into the red blaze of the fire and think of Valentine’s final words: “We are all a part of the one beating heart.”

_______________
theatre@ssh.com.au

 

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