REVIEW: Moominpappa at Sea | Spare Parts Puppet Theatre

April 1, 2015

I’ve recently come to realise that something special has been missing in my childhood education, thanks to Spare Parts Puppet Theatre. It seems there exists a family of little blobby white creatures that go on grand adventures with various hangers-on such as adopted children, sea horses and mysterious lonely things that freeze the ground beneath them. These blobby creatures are, of course, the Moomins, and they have been embraced by children far and wide for decades through a series of books written and illustrated by Tove Jansson. Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, a group of clever adults who are experts at embracing the child within, have taken book number eight in the series, Moominpappa at Sea, and turned it into a delightful stage piece just in time for the April school holidays.

EDIT: You used to be able to Read the full review on X-Press Magazine here.


My companions to the show were a friend that had grown up on the Moomin books and his young son; they helped me understand the appeal and charm of the Moomin universe since I was a newcomer to the place. Both of them were delighted with the adaptation, which my friend assured me was faithful and very much in the spirit of the original stories. His son was engrossed by the show, sitting mostly silently and sometimes right on the edge of his seat. Some of the other littles around us were a bit more vocal in their reaction to events on stage, but were nevertheless thoroughly entertained (as were most of the adults, I might add).

Moominpappa is performed and co-created by Michael Barlow, who delivers a warm, genuine and clear performance as he he slips in and out of all the characters. Sometimes he manipulates the Moomin dolls using different voices, sometimes he embodies a couple of the characters without the use of puppets, which allows him to express with more nuance the more philosophical thoughts and underlying feelings of those characters. This in turn gives the material depth, which I think is important for Moomin fans, who acknowledge that these stories hold important messages about diversity, individuality, and acceptance, amongst others.

Some of the scenes with the Groke were a little bit frightening to a few of the littles, but I think it was a fear they enjoyed in some measure, like the pleasure kids take in hearing ghost stories. The music by Lee Buddle especially works up that creepy atmosphere before we learn what the Groke is really after. His composition widens the spectrum of feeling and emotion for us, as does the lighting design by Elliot Chambers, who also happens to be the production manager and the lonely Fisherman. Chambers sits on stage and provides manual lights (in addition to the cues he delivers from his laptop on stage) in certain scenes, and has a few lines here and there.

This is a compact, nicely designed little show that can be easily packed up and taken on the road; it might just come to a school near you someday, but kids both big and little should see it now during its twice-a-day sessions down at Spare Parts Puppet Theatre in Fremantle until April 18th.



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