FABLES of old are puppeted into life through a deceivingly simple set, a rambunctious duo and cast of irresistible characters – made from paper bags, newspaper and cardboard boxes. Puppet-master from New York Jim West has made a mastery out of transforming simple morals into entertaining and humorous fun, in his production Aesop’s Fables, which runs at PJ Live Arts @ Jaya One in Selangor from Dec 8 to 18, and the Performing Arts Centre Of Penang @ Straits Quay in Penang from Dec 11 to 15.
The show relays classic tales such as The Lion And The Mouse and The Hare And The Tortoise through puppets, controlled from behind a large black screen. The stories run back and forth across the screen, which stretches across the stage, creating the impression of distance. And the puppets are simple but effective – the most powerful message that comes across is how all you need to bring Aesop’s world to life, is your imagination.
The show manages to be both entertaining and educational. Aided by Aesop, the ancient storyteller himself – a wise, white haired, toga-clad puppet introduced to us by West and his affable but boisterous sidekick, Joshua Dixon, there is loads of audience interaction.
Peppered with funny dialogue, and punctuated with the cheeky antics of Aesop’s yellow puppet dog, Moral, the show moves forward against the pleasant sounds of classical composers Scarlatti, Beethoven and Chopin ... puppets often sing their way through the stories, adding to the fun.
The audience of children are made to feel involved, West and Dixon often enlisting their help to keep track of the Moral’s naughty behaviour. They break down the magic of puppetry, explaining that the Lion for example, can be made by anyone – it’s a mouth puppet made from newspaper and a paper bag, whilst the elaborate stag puppet (from The Stag At The Pool), is nothing more than a large painted box with a hole for the puppet master’s hand and strings of tubes for legs.
Particularly impressive was how they showed what can be achieved with nothing more than hands and a light source, in their shadow puppet version of The Fox And The Grapes ... something, they emphasised, children can do in their bedrooms.
All in all, this is a one-hour show that takes our focus away from the LCD screens of computers and television sets, re-introducing us to the power of good, simple and hands-on fun. It’s also a great source of inspiration for the parents too, who will walk away equipped with an arsenal of ideas for fun, new learning tools.