Monday, 27 March 2017

Kate Crackerberry Works Magic

Detail of a puppet created by designer Baptiste Neis.

Upon entering the performance space for Ruth Lawrence's Kate Crackerberry audience members were greeted by a woodland setting.  A burlap path meandered from a tree stump, which was festooned with felt greenery and red berries.  A soundscape of wind chimes completed the atmosphere of magic.

On the morning that I attended Kate Crackerberry the room was filled to the rafters with enthusiastic school children.  They quickly got caught up in the timeless folktale of how two step- sisters foil the evil intentions of a step-mother.  I say timeless because such cautionary tales have been with us for centuries.  What is thought provoking is how their relevance is not diminished and how they can appeal to everyone from school children to senior citizens.  What could be more appropriate for today than a tale about blended families, conflict and a persistent battle with body image?

The charm of Ruth Lawrence's adaptation is its artful simplicity.  Two actors breathe life into a handful of puppets created by Baptiste Neis.  The sisters are girl puppets with limbs, faces and hair but their parents are portrayed simply by crowns on sticks.  The adults in the play are iconic or symbolic roles.

Kate Crackerberry is fuelled with music.  Diana Daly is both composer and performer on a number of instruments.  Ruth Lawrence provided lively narration.  The schoolchildren in the audience readily participated by calling out suggestions, energetically clapping, stomping and dancing.  They quickly caught on to the repetitive elements and urged on the action.  With glee they shouted out their opinions that ranged from "Fairies don't exist!" to "Watch out for the fairies!"  It was clear that no one was bored.

As the classes were getting ready to file out of the playhouse I consulted a few students.   Two boys sitting beside me said their favourite part of the puppet show was when one of the heroines underwent a magical transformation at the hands of the witch-like Old Hen Woman, while two girls behind me said their favourite was the dancing fairies, which are evocatively portrayed by lights.  My favourite part was watching how so many of the students waved goodbye to the puppets, wanted to pinch their noses or steal a glance behind the scenery.  Kate Crackerberry, seasoned with South Coast accents, works magic on many levels.

Kate Crackerry Adapted by Ruth Lawrence, Performed by Ruth Lawrence and Baptiste Neis, Directed by Lois Brown, March 23-24, 2017 LSPU Hall, St. John's, NL.

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