Miss Lily's Fabulous Feather Boa
By Michael Barlow
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre
What a fine idea by Spare Parts for the midwinter school holidays: to take its young audience on a 60-minute tropical escapade to north Queensland.
Spare Parts stalwart Michael Barlow (writer and director of The Arrival and The Night Zoo) has delved into the popular children's book by Margaret Wild for the Fremantle puppetry company's latest show.
Miss Lily's Fabulous Pink Feather Boa is a delightful picture book about a lonely potoroo (weighed down by the sadness of being the last of his kind, he thinks) who checks into a holiday lodge run by the eccentric and flamboyant Miss Lily. The other guests are a family of wombats and a family of koalas, each obsessed by their competitive sports, which sidelines the timid potoroo.
Performer Katya Shevtsov introduces the potoroo held under her arm like a cuddly toy and then gives the puppet life as it wrestles a big suitcase up Miss Lily's front steps. The Last Potoroo is shocked to find that his host is a toothy crocodile with an eye for dinner but is relieved to hear that she prefers fish and chips to small marsupials.
Nice, light touches like these keep the young ones interested in this tale about how the potoroo learns to be brave and look for others like him after Miss Lily puts on an inspirational floorshow with her feather boa.
Shevtsov and the other performers, Jacob Lehrer and Philip Mitchell, play the koalas and wombats by donning fluffy-eared hats with varying success. Mitchell, in particular, had trouble being heard towards the back of the theatre.
Lehrer is an engaging performer and his dance routine wearing Miss Lily's crocodilian clown feet and fluttering the puppet's eyelashes was a highlight.
The thread of the original story, though, is not strong and this carries over into the play, whose flow is curtailed further by the constant shifting of sets around the stage.
The physical comedy of a badminton match in which the shuttlecock misbehaves like a pesky blowie at a barbie is a nice interlude, as is a guilt-ridden dream sequence after the potoroo has stolen part of Miss Lily's boa.
This was an amiable production which elicited laughs and the full attention of its target audience of five to 10-year-olds.
But I left a little disappointed by its steady-as-she-goes approach to children's theatre, thrown into sharp relief by the increasingly ambitious productions unfolding a few kilometres up the road at Subiaco's Barking Gecko Theatre Company.
Miss Lily's Fabulous Feather Boa runs twice daily until July 21.