Australian Stage: The Velveteen Rabbit | Spare Parts Puppet Theatre

Heartwarming story of love between a child and his toy rabbit, exploring what it means to be “real”.

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre brings an old classic to life for fresh audiences with this adaptation by Greg Lissaman. Margery Williams wrote The Velveteen Rabbit in 1922, and generations of children have come to meet the floppy eared rabbit with no hind legs through its pages since. The story inspired the Toy Story series of films, sharing the conceit of toys living their own lives between human interactions, but The Velveteen Rabbitbears a sweeter message and a touch of magic with a fabled Fairy bringing another aspect to its tale.

Rebecca Bradley performs as the Boy, Jordy, her exuberant enthusiasm filling the stage in scenes such as the space explorer rabbit, blasting off in a spaceship bearing close resemblance to a domestic wheeled sprinkler, or the adventure in which the rabbit encounters a dinosaur in the birdbath, or even just playing football, with long-suffering rabbit serving duty as the ball. Bradleycaptures the essence of child’s play in her depiction of Jordy, while keeping the focus on the roles of the puppets. Fellow performers Jessica Harlond Kenny and Nick Pages-Oliver also appear on stage, playing parents intruding into the world of the toys. However, the performers all excel as puppeteers, bringing toys to life on stage despite whatever movement limitations, such as the horse fixed to a wheeled board. Particular highlights include moments of hilarious gusto in animating Bandito, the action figure terrified of humans, and the cosy chats between the stuffed toys when left on the windowsill. The closing scene of liberation and play with the wild rabbits somehow falls a little flatter than expected but the high emotion by that point glosses over minor technical details from the audience perspective.

Zoe Atkinson’s set design contains subtle nods to the vintage of the source material such as the classic wallpaper pattern of football players, but the story of the child and his stuffed rabbit proves timeless in this production. Atkinsonexpedites rapidly shifting scenes with a modified stage featuring sliding doors moving across a letterbox style frame, allowing tight focus and sudden shifts in scale. The modified stage display creates new challenges for Graeme Walne’s clever lighting design that highlights diverse settings from within a toybox to under a hedge in the garden. The set of Jordy’s sickbed seen from above is a particularly admirable piece of stagecraft, cunningly constructed with performers and puppets all appearing consistently from the novel viewpoint.

Lee Buddle’s cinematic sound design features classic pieces to accentuate key moments, from Ride of the Valkyriesto Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, effectively emphasising changes in mood and atmosphere. The stirring tunes heighten immediate responses to the action on stage, particularly affecting younger audience members who respond with gasps and appeals for reassurance from nearby adults.

The Velveteen Rabbit’s puppeteers also require skills in the art of the quick costume change – not only for their own appearances on stage but also to wear the appropriate outfits for each scene. Inspiration has struck to match the puppeteers’ overalls to the wallpaper pattern, with other outfits also blending into the scenery of other backdrops, keeping the emphasis on the world of the toys.

Another delightful offering from Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, 50 minutes of magic for both children and the young at heart, with food for thought and further discussion together afterward.

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre
The Velveteen Rabbit
by Margery Williams | adaptation Greg Lissaman

Directed by Philip Mitchell

Venue: Spare Parts Puppet Theatre | 1 Short Street, Fremantle WA
Dates: 3 – 28 January 2017
Bookings: sppt.asn.au


Written by Nerida Dickinson, Thursday 8 December, 2016, Australian Stage