Rules of Summer // The Post Newspaper Review
Review by Sarah McNeill
Several years ago, illustrator Shaun Tan sent Philip Mitchell a draft copy of an 80-page story titled Summer. He told Philip, the artistic director of Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, that it would make a great a puppetry story. But then Shaun reworked the story. He made the drawings less cartoon-like and more painterly and complex, and the text, which followed two brothers’ summer holiday adventures, became more surreal, eventually reduced to a set of rules set out in one simple sentence for each illustration.
The title changed to Rules of Summer, which is also the name of a new puppet show conceived by Spare Parts Puppet Theatre and based on the book. Through the series of mysterious rules such as “Never step on a snail”, “Never argue with an umpire” or “Never take the last olive”, two young brothers explore the world around them, and their bond is tested as each rule is broken.
Philip said: “Just as Shaun was distilling the story and taking it into a more surreal direction, we found we were doing exactly the same thing with our adaptation.” Shaun, who has had other books adapted by Spare Parts, loves to talk about his artwork and loves to talk to puppeteers about his own inspiration. “It is the richness of his natural story-telling that inspires us,” Philip said.
Philip said that during the creative process, Shaun sat enigmatically on the edges, a little like the crows in his drawings. Shaun says of the distant crow which appears throughout the book of rules: “I’ve always been fascinated by these birds, gliding and hopping about electrical wires like omnipresent observers of all suburban human folly.” Spare Parts’ world premiere of Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer is an interactive and multisensory take on a classic story of a boy’s rite of passage. Philip said that they had created 40 new puppets and 70 hand-cut silhouettes for the show.
The audience gets engaged in the action when a waiter walks around with a tray of treats. But who will take the last one? From the middle of the auditorium an umpire will direct an unfair game of tennis. Will anyone argue with him? The sensory experience includes bubbles in the theatre, wind blowing through, and the smell of summer fruits, thanks to a citrus mist spray.
“It is a sensory world of sight, taste, smell, touch and sound which will bring you inside the story,” Philip said.
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