SPARE Parts Puppet Theatre has always been a company at the forefront of creativity, so when the option came to stage a world premiere of another Shaun Tan book, Rules of Summer, instead of presenting a simple story, it upped the ante.
“We had the idea of breaking the fourth wall and creating a sensory world both in the auditorium and on stage, wanting something that connected to an audience in a different way,” director Philip Mitchell said.
“The book doesn’t actually have a storyline and it’s a series of rules. It was quite a challenge at first to not just fall into doing a simple story but to be true to the way Shaun has constructed these series of rules.
“The story is about the relationship of these two young boys and how like in any relationship, whether it be kids or adults, there are times where there’s things that pull us apart and others that draw us together. It was that premise of togetherness and apart that we wanted to explore.
“We enrol the audience from the younger brother’s perspective and it’s his emotional journey the audience will experience physically with smells, taste and thousands of bubbles through the air. It’ll be visually spectacular and exhilarating.”
Mitchell said the interactive nature of the production was proving mysterious during rehearsals because they did not know exactly how audiences would react.
“It’s totally new territory for us because we’ve never done anything like this before,” he said.
“It’s exciting and making us a little nervous while we take puppetry into a whole new world.”
Rules of Summer features more than 100 puppets in a parade of Tan’s crazy animal and robot creations.
Despite having the task of getting the puppets from SPPT’s rehearsal room in Fremantle to Dolphin Theatre at UWA for an offsite season while renovations are being done (the company will be back in Fremantle for its summer season), Mitchell said the greatest challenge had been perfecting the immersive sense of smell.
“We’ve been playing with the idea of smell and how you safely infuse a theatre with scent,” he said.
“How do you have smell on cue when you want it? Then how do you disperse it before the next audience comes in? We’re still playing with that and had some pretty disastrous attempts so far.
“We were trying to create the smell of strawberries because there’s an image in the book of the two boys in a giant landscape of fruit. The strawberries ended up smelling more like a marshmallow candy. It seems like orange is one of the best scents in the fruit range instead. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to taste something too.”
What: Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s Rules of Summer
Where: Dolphin Theatre, UWA
When: September 23 to October 8