Shaun Tan and Spare Parts Puppet Theatre make perfect match with Rules of Summer

Shaun Tan and Philip Mitchell. Picture: Andrew Ritchie
Shaun Tan and Philip Mitchell. Picture: Andrew Ritchie

IT says a lot when even the creator of the source material can be as surprised as the young children in the front row when watching a stage adaption of his work.

This happened when Melbourne-based artist, writer and filmmaker Shaun Tan flew home to see Spare Parts Puppet Theatre production Rules of Summer yesterday.

Despite having been in early discussions with director Philip Mitchell, Tan said his book was so loose and open-ended that he did not know what to expect.

“I had a curious excitement because I always know that any Spare Parts adaptation is less an adaptation than a total reinvention of a work,” Tan said.

“In fact, whilst working on the book I did think this is great food for theatrical thought: a set of concept artworks for a story that hasn’t been written yet, that needs someone to come along and write, dramatise, bring to life. And that’s what’s certainly been done here with terrific energy and zest.

“Surprisingly, the show reminded me of many things from my own childhood (growing up in Hillarys) that I hadn’t thought about in a long time; particularly the dynamics of ‘friendly fighting’ that all children know well but probably find hard to articulate in words.

“The dreamlike space of the theatre is perfect for this and it does feel in Rules of Summer that you are in a shared dream with the other audience members, a place beyond ordinary language.”

It was the fourth time the Fremantle-based puppet theatre company had based a work on one of Tan’s books.

Tan said it was a terrific honour to collaborate with such a conceptually innovative and talented company of artists on his tale about two young boys exploring the world around them.

“I think the memory of this show might well stick with audiences, especially children, well into their senior years,” Tan said.

“It might even make siblings and best friends a bit nicer to each other, or at least able to reminisce fondly about the times when they are not.

“Good ideas don’t belong to anyone, they belong to everyone, and like DNA they shift and change and survive that way.

“So I love it when audiences reflect on a work in a way that’s transformative, that they see something I don’t see, or recall a personal memory, usually something to do with their own friends or family, by participating in our shared dream. That’s how you know a work is successful.”

Tan finished the day with a sold-out In Conversation session with Mitchell after the evening show.

Rules of Summer is at Dolphin Theatre, UWA until October 8.