Blueback swims in to school holidays at Spare Parts Puppet Theatre

Philip Mitchell. Picture: Andrew Ritchie d492116
Philip Mitchell. Picture: Andrew Ritchie d492116

TIM Winton’s story Blueback has held a special place in Philip Mitchell’s heart for the past 20 years.

He first created the production, from Peta Murray’s adaptation, while working with Terrapin Puppet Theatre in Tasmania and brought it to Spare Parts Puppet Theatre when appointed as artistic director 17 years ago.

“It sort of completed the suite of Tim Winton works at Spare Parts Puppet Theatre and given Tim lived around the corner, it seemed quite appropriate,” Mitchell said.

“I originally performed in the work and over the past 20 years it has evolved and developed into a very refined piece.

“Even this last iteration with new performers Jessica Harlond-Kenny and Daniel Dosek is another version of the original. They bring a new perspective to the work and because it’s a visual narrative, it has a lot of flexibility to play with the visual storytelling.”

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Blueback tracks the story of Abel Jackson and his mother through a series of letters spanning his life from a young boy to adulthood.

“It’s a non- linear story and tells the different perspectives of his mother, who stays in one place all her life, Longboat Bay, and Abel who grows up there but goes away to university and becomes a marine biologist,” Mitchell said.

“There’s this beautiful allegory of the mother learns more about the place where they live than he did by going to university. Essentially it’s about wisdom versus knowledge and the wisdom you get by living and being part of a place; remembering to care for the place we live in.”

The production’s puppetry was inspired by Japanese bunraku puppets, including the life-size western blue groper that requires two puppeteers to operate.

“The puppets require such detailed manipulation and such skill,” Mitchell said.

“It’s one of those works that is very meditative and draws you into the storytelling.

“It’s that look on a kid’s face where they are totally absorbed and it’s not from a mobile phone or iPad, it’s live theatre. It’s a joy to be in the audience watching that total seduction of the puppetry world.”

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What: Blueback

Where: Spare Parts Puppet Theatre

When: April 13 to 27