Puppets show truth of apartheid

Puppets are the flavour of the month at the Perth International Arts Festival, besides the massive marionettes of The Giants.

For inanimate objects, they give much of the emotional weight to several productions as with the tragic puppet child of Madame Butterfly, the stolen babies in The Rabbits and the delicate little figures in The Paper Architect, which opens tonight.

In Ubu and the Truth Commission, puppets convey witness accounts from South Africa's apartheid hearings.

Actor Dawid Minnaar, who plays the grotesque clown General Pa Ubu in the play, said it was technically demanding but great fun for him and actress Busi Zokufa to work opposite puppets as the other characters.

He said the puppets were great instruments for conveying emotion and using them to represent testimony of apartheid victims was more effective than real actors. "The puppets tend to draw a very sympathetic focus," Minnaar said. "It is weird. It is almost as if with the flesh-and-blood actor, you are too aware of them acting out these harrowing testimonies."

The play is co-created by artist William Kentridge and Handspring, the puppetry company behind the hit West End play War Horse. Confronting evidence from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was presented through rollicking, absurdist theatre in which Pa Ubu embodied the system's gross abuses, Minnaar said.

"He is really a clown, a buffoonish character steeped in blood," he said.

Ubu and the Truth Commission is at Heath Ledger Theatre until Saturday.