For many modern children, the Royal Show is more synonymous with theme park rides and sugary show bags than with chopping blocks or cooking competitions. Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s latest production, Show Day, successfully enthuses a new generation of show-goers by emphasising the agricultural beauty behind the long-standing annual tradition.
Show Day is more of an event than a fairy tale, with a day-in-the-life style structure that emulates the experience of attending an agricultural show. Several stories are woven throughout the performance, all of which reject traditional arcs in favour of following a free-flowing format. This show contains appropriate amounts of chicken chasing and sheep shearing, and boasts at least 14 impressive puppets.
Show Day easily upholds Spare Parts’ excellent reputation in puppet creation. Tiny puppet people with functional puppet spinning wheels spin actual puppet wool, or so it seems. A large sheep (and its puppeteer/shearer) looks appropriately dapper in a knitted woollen outfit – a visual gag that flies over some heads, but is appreciated by those who get it.
An escapee chicken captures everyone’s attention, and steals the show several times over. A dog, the design of which includes mechanised legs, boasts realistic textures and believable – albeit miniature – proportions, charming everyone except the sheep. Very few children’s performances include the birth of a calf, but this one does, and it works wonderfully.
In terms of standout characters, the clear audience favourite isn’t a puppet, but a mask combined with an actual human. Barry looks, sounds and moves like a puppet brought to life. His articulated jaw and startled eyes enhance the humour of every scene he appears in. Barry elicits laughter without uttering a word, performing nuanced physical comedy punctuated by the occasional well-timed utterance. An impressive and hilarious level of unplanned audience participation serves as evidence of unbridled enthusiasm from the target demographic, who undoubtedly see Barry as the star of the show.
The set design incorporates a building façade that doubles as a puppet theatre, with much of the action extending across the whole stage and into the audience. Yellow and white bunting complements a collection of cheerful signs, which combine to convey a convincing sideshow vibe. Erik Loew’s lighting design shines (or, at least, causes the props to shine) especially towards the end.
An iconic Australian song about shearing sheep appears exactly when the audience most expects it but, aside from that, the music tends to blend with the action. David Rastrick’s score subtly enhances the visual narrative without overtly distracting from it.
Every aspect of Show Day effectively encapsulates a literal show day. Fairy floss sellers, show bag stalls and games of chance evoke feelings of show ground goodness, and an array of unexpected objects used in innovative ways create the illusion of flameless fireworks. From wood-chopping competitions to sheepdog trials, Show Day exemplifies family-friendly, feather-flying, ribbon-twirling fun.
What this show lacks in narrative complexity is made up for in terms of humour, creativity and educational value. In addition to reinforcing agricultural concepts to young children, Show Day instils in its young audience a deeper appreciation of puppetry, storytelling and expressive movement.
A range of engaging craft activities brings meaningful context to the overall concept, and encourages children to feel included – and therefore invested – in the agricultural aspects of Show Day. These activities extend the magic outside the performance by virtue of cardboard, tape and an imaginary show ground.
Grounded in childlike wonder, ardent nostalgia and genuine passion, Show Day is suitable for children under 10, offering particular value for the four- to seven-year-old bracket.
Ellie Eaton Theatre, Claremont Showground, WA
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre
Director: Michael Barlow
Co-Creators: Ellis Pearson, Cecile Williams, Michael Barlow
Puppets, Set and Costume Design: Cecile Williams
Puppet Makers: Jane Davies, Sanjiva Margio, Cecile Williams, Umberto Margio, Jackson Harrison
Costume Maker: Kylie Bywaters
Lighting Designer: Erik Loew
Composer: David Rastrick
Stage Manager: Jackson Harrison
Performers: Ellis Pearson, Nadia Martich, Bec Bradley, Michael Barlow
Understudy: Louis Spencer
Show Day will be performed until 22 April 2023.