The Three Little Pigs by Charlotte and Sean Meany.Toybox Puppet Theatre Company. Pre-school and Early Childhood. Available for in-school performances throughout the year, 1996: bookings on 231 9012. Professional. Thanks to Alison Watson and staff at Fraser Pre-School.
"I can't look! I can't look!" burst from the dramatically inclined pre-schooler near me as the Wolf appeared. Soon she was wide-eyed, cheering the Littlest Pig to make good the escape. In reality, the marionette Wolf and Pig were running on the spot while the backdrop was rolled across the scene behind them. How important indeed it is for young children's imaginations to be stirred by the old theatrical devices. And they were rapt for the whole show.
I was pleased to see string puppets in the traditional puppet theatre once again, when other companies have shifted the focus to hand puppets, whole body puppets and combinations of actors and puppets. Toybox, a local and entirely self-funded company, complements the other companies available to schools. Jigsaw, Skylark and now Toybox provide rich fare. Particularly I thought Shaun's music was delightful: seemingly simple, but with highly original harmonies and rhythms in clear instrumentation. Toybox's speciality is to present traditional European fairy tales (properly researched, I might add) with marionettes, which have been so important in European culture. This is early days for this company, and I hope they will go on to explore marionettes in Australian and Asian contexts.
An essential part of the show is Charlotte's introduction, which sets the rules for the children and gives them some protection (the Wolf is not really scary - he's more like a clown); followed up by her leading a discussion with the children and having them meet the Wolf, the Cat and see backstage after the show. Very quickly children began to ask questions like "How do you make the Cat's eyes open and close?" and from this moment the relationship between imagination and reality is clear, and much is being learned about theatre. The show is very suitable for pre-school and early childhood, but I think some research is needed into the different levels of vocabulary for each age group which Charlotte needs to use when speaking directly to the children.
Toybox's Three Little Pigs has a nice mix of melodrama and sense of irony which the young children thoroughly enjoyed. Productions like this help them know how to be a good audience and, I believe, help to counter the superficiality (and gratuitous violence) of much of what they see on television. I highly recommend this show to teachers as both education and entertainment.
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