Giant steampunk puppet hits Fringe
Giant steampunk puppet hits Fringe

More than two tonnes of mechanised madness from steampunk heaven will come trundling through the city to mark the opening of Fringe World this year.

Recycled from old mining machinery and described as Mad Max-meets-Jules Verne, the moving Mechronos "performance machine" is created by Spare Parts Puppet Theatre and inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's flying machine designs.

Six performers will power the ponderous 7m-tall beast from inside a huge rat's wheel and do acrobatic tricks and dance routines while hanging off its moving aerial rigging, which Spare Parts artistic director Philip Mitchell compares with a giant Hills Hoist clothes line.

Akin to the roving outdoor spectacles of French mechanical marionette street theatre company Royal De Luxe, Mechronos is said to be "the keeper of time" and on a centuries-long journey around the world with its operators.

A special Lotterywest commission for the Fringe, it will come rolling out each weekend of the four-week festival after making its debut during the January 25-28 opening long weekend.

It is by far the biggest puppet Spare Parts has created and has been designed by long-time Spare Parts collaborator Sanjiva Margio.

"It is very exciting and is really stretching what people would define as puppetry," Mitchell says. "Part of the R and D was looking at Leonardo da Vinci's flying machines, but also the idea of animism and the way early tribes worshipped an object or idol so that they put life and soul into it. Mechronos is animated through the belief that these six travellers have in it."

There will be a lot of flashing lights, gas explosions, acrobatics and choreographic sequences that progress dramatically over the 2½ hour performance through the Perth Cultural Centre andother CBD locations.

Mechronos will go through phases of harmony, disquiet, rebellion, conflict and the re-establishment of order to reflect the cycle of time and humanity, Mitchell says. "There are a whole lot of allegorical layers to the concept which we are still exploring. There is nothing subtle about it. It is very dramatic.

"When time slows down Mechronos is slowing down and when time stands still Mechronos has stopped. It is taking a fun view of time but also overlaying time is the idea of consequential actions. So in life we make an action and then there is consequential action that we know about or don't know about."

This industrial-scale performance machine has been built in a Fremantle workshop with a lot of in-kind assistance from Spare parts supporters in the mining, shipbuilding and engineering industries, Mitchell says. "There is a lot of goodwill and a lot of fun happening down here."

Mitchell says Spare Parts' involvement in such a major project for Fringe World opens the door for new audiences to learn that puppetry is much more than marionettes or rod puppets for kids' theatre.

"It is extraordinary for us to be involved in this. The Fringe is where a lot of the cutting-edge, interesting work is happening. It is where people are experimenting and taking risks. We are excited that it doesn't fit just as theatre for children and young people. It is about performance art and taking us into totally new territory which is a new platform for exploring work outside the proscenium and the black box.

"We hope that Mechronos can travel the world to festivals and music concerts. It can get towed around to fantastic events around Australia and the world. That is the vision."

The West Australian

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