Spare Parts Puppet Theatre aims at heart with The Velveteen Rabbit – Eastern Reporter Review

THE Velveteen Rabbit has been one of artistic director Philip Mitchell’s favourite shows in the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre repertoire since first presented by the puppet company in 2005.

“I think it goes to the heart of what puppetry is,” Mitchell said.

“The show is about a puppeteer investing enough life in a puppet to make it real; I just think that’s what puppetry is about.

“We sit in this dark box, watching this show and for that 50 minutes, we’re believing all those toys are actually alive.

“It’s absolutely magical and there’s something so satisfying to direct a show where you emotionally engage in it, which of course then creates empathy.

“As a director, that’s what you want; you want the audience to walk out having felt something.”

Based on Margery Williams’ 1922 children’s book, the production was adapted by Greg Lissaman and follows the story of a boy and his toy rabbit, who both believe the rabbit is real.

“I’m a total Toy Story fan and it is the book that inspired Toy Story,” Mitchell said.

“We capture the main essence of the story and the main characters and we introduce the character Bandito who is the toy who won’t let himself be loved.

“The pinnacle of the story is that the boy gets scarlet fever and everything has to be burnt; I think that’s the biggest leap for a modern child because we don’t have to burn things anymore.

“It’s probably the only thing in the show that sits in the early last century world, otherwise it’s pretty timeless.”

Mitchell said designer Zoe Atkinson had repurposed many of the puppets to look like everyday toys, but they still had puppetry controls.

The fairy is a Pelham puppet, a form of puppets made in England during the 1940s and ’50s, while the real rabbits are rod puppets.

“Our 2017 program also has The Arrival in it and I think this sits in the same sort of category, where an adult and a child get equally as much enjoyment out of it,” Mitchell said.

“While The Velveteen Rabbit is a book for young people, it’s a story that can be appreciated by all.

“It’s a bit like our Shaun Tan works where they are very much in that intergenerational experience; not just a kids show.”

Review by Tanya MacNaughton Eastern Reporter Community

December 20, 2016