‘New Owner’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by October 3, 2016

‘New Owner’ is an amazing new production by the internationally recognised and multi-award winning group, ‘Last Great Hunt’. The ‘Hunters’ are the creators and puppeteers, Arielle Gray and Tim Watts. They are the ingenious couple who brought to life the iconic ‘Adventures of Alvin Sputnik’. In order to develop this show, Tim and Arielle entered a residency at the Kinosaki International Arts Centre in Japan.

Arielle has acted in many major stage productions, often with the leading part, and collecting prestigious awards on the way.

‘The Last Great Hunt’ have taken their previous shows to such diverse places as South Korea, Japan, Germany, Slovenia, Canada and the US.

This 55-minute, jaw-dropping show is being presented by PICA and the 2016 Awesome Festival, in the PICA Performance Space, at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art. There are a couple of performances at various times each day, until 16th October.

On Saturday 8th October, there will be a Tactile Tour at 11.45 am, with an Audio Description performance at 1.00 pm.

 

The set appears simple. There is a black wall with a central window, approx. 1 metre high by 3 metres wide. There are three, black, roller blinds that rise and fall to reveal the various areas and scenes beyond the window. A precisely-positioned projector provides a selection of stunning scenery onto the ensemble.

       When 80-year old Mabel’s husband Arthur dies, she is left alone; and so the widow goes to the Animal Haven to choose a new companion – a scruffy, boisterous puppy. She shares his affection, and he sleeps on the bed with her.

     However, weeks later, on returning from the shops, it can be seen that Mabel is wearing odd shoes. It is obvious that Mabel is becoming senile, and sadly, even forgetting to feed her best friend.

       One day, whilst out shopping, Mabel becomes separated from her fluffy little friend. Alone in the world, what will the little Scots Terrier do? Will he find his way home?                  

 

(SPOILER for those with very young children – there is a happy ending).

This dialogue-free show is most likely to travel the world, and so to ensure that the simplicity of the story is retained for all nationalities, the creators have included the suggestions of an international – Danish – creative advisor, Søren Højgaard.

The puppeteers, dressed in black onesies and black hoods, provided the sound effects; however, it was Rachael Dease who composed the accompanying subtle music. The backing was often a single instrument, such as a guitar or vibraphone, with a mellifluous ethereal vocal accompaniment.

The main characters of the show are the dogs. They were designed and constructed by Chloe Flockart. Sadly, I have seen so-called puppet shows where characterless, stuffed toys have been bounced around in an attempt to bring a smile. In this production, Chloe and the creators have gone for mobile, active characters with personalities. When every nuance of the animal was exhibited, it was very easy for the children to forget that these puppets were not real, even the adults were completely absorbed. The show was accurately advertised as suitable for children over 7, although I took my 4 year old grandson and he was totally engrossed throughout, even during a darkish patch of the story, towards the end his stare never left the stage. Totally mesmerised.

The inventiveness of Anthony Watts’ sets and gadgets have amazed us in the past, but in this show, the scenery and props were truly exceptional. A television actor has to be extremely precise at ‘hitting their mark’, and this presentation was very similar. With tight lighting, a tiny set, moving backgrounds with which to interact, the stress put on the actors was huge. There could be no leeway for error. With a computerised soundtrack and visuals, there could be no second chances; every move precise and timed to perfection. The puppeteers had to get it right – or crumble.

This show was crammed with magic, and like any good magical act, the secret is in making the whole performance look simple and unspectacular. In one scene, to show the dog’s desolation and isolation, the scenic background expanded into ‘Cinemascope’ and the rain started.

Many of the effects required split-second timing, coupled with accurate puppet positioning – often within a couple of centimetres either way. For two puppeteers to maintain this accuracy for 55 minutes, whilst ‘acting’ and supplying meaningful ‘dog dialogue’ was gobsmacking! All of the usual human theatrical skills also had to be employed precisely and at their very best.

The scenery artwork had outstanding detail, with magnificent perspective. A moving aerial shot really was 3D. The dog convincingly scaled the heights and descended into a warren of tunnels, such was the meticulous artwork and puppetry. The technical / stage manager often gets an obligatory or polite mention in reviews, but I am sure that Liz Newell will have been almost as exhausted as the cast after each show. Brilliant.

Yes, there are heart-wrenching moments in this delightful tale, but be assured, you won’t find a softer wimp than myself when it comes to animals, and I still left with a smile on my face. So treat yourself to this year’s best COMPLETE production and catch this magnificent show.