Everest Theatre, January 9


Like children’s books, the best children’s theatre and, in this case, puppetry, hooks the adults, too. So if you have any bored six-to-nine-year-olds digging you an early grave during the holidays, A Bucket of Beetles will unshackle their minds from the digital grasp for 45 minutes. Add in the round trip, and you’ll have a memorable outing. One you can talk about.

All Photos: Jaquie Manning.

You can discuss the astoundingly talented Lunang Pramusesa, who, at the age of four, devised this story of a boy and a beetle, and who then helped design the puppets, and now works alongside four adult puppeteers.

A Bucket of Beetles comes to Sydney Festival from Indonesia’s Papermoon Puppet Theatre. Essentially without dialogue (other than from some small audience members), it tells of Wehea, a boy who lives in a rainforest, not as a human in competition with nature, but as a human at one with nature.

I know, that will have the cynics cursing yet more eco-propaganda, so let’s pin them to the back of a glass display case for the moment, and delight in the innocence, the beauty and the expert puppetry.

The narrative, however, is not all plain sailing. Wehea initially seems to fall for one beetle, before his affections are usurped by another: a rhinoceros beetle, a creature that can nudge 6 centimetres in length, and that here, in puppet form, is about the size of a large cat (which would be rather more troubling than the low-frequency hum of the big beetle in my office the other day). I guess Wehea changes allegiances because he can fly on the rhino beetle’s back, which, if you’re a little boy, is something only dumb adults wouldn’t understand.

The story hits more of a headwind when Wehea and his beetle buddy disappear for a while, during which time a fire apparently engulfs the forest. When they do return, safe from the destruction, you sense the plot could have been more suspenseful had we seen them in imminent danger.

Nonetheless, the puppetry is often spellbinding (including that of Wehea, operated by a puppeteer on a low, wheeled stool, his feet ingeniously becoming the boy’s), admirably enhanced by the set, lighting (sometimes just torches), projections and especially the music, with its emphasis on exotic percussion. But do try to sit close.