Theatre review: Perahu-Perahu, OzAsia Festival

A sea voyage through shadowplay.

Settling in for the opening night and world premiere of Perahu-Perahu at the Space Theatre, I’m a novice to the world of the ancient storytelling technique of wayang kulit, or shadowplay.

A traditional form of puppetry originating in Indonesian culture, wayang kulit uses amazingly intricate cut-out figures to tell a story.

But before these incredible forms are brought on stage, Perahu-Perahu opens with one of the performers walking on stage and singing a haunting song.

From then on, it’s almost like going back to school, with the puppeteers putting sheets on an overhead projector. But rather than screening school lessons, hundreds of amazingly intricate wayang kulit figures are projected onto the screen.

The intricacy and the work that must have gone into creating the shadow puppets and their design is incredible in itself, but the way the artists use them to tell a story is masterful.

Perahu-Perahu means boats in Indonesian, and the shadow puppets are used to tell stories looking at people’s relationship with the sea, accompanied by amazing and atmospheric musical backing.

The show has been inspired by the history of travel across the waters separating Indonesia and Australia, and looks at bizarre encounters, triumph and peril at sea.

Read: Digital performance review: On view: Panoramic Suite

Stories covered include looking at the trauma of people travelling by boat, trying to seek refuge in a new country. Another part of the show looks at the Australian live export cattle trade with Indonesia.

Along the way, positive sayings like ‘when life gives you durians, make durian ice cream’ and ‘we who are separated by the sea are united by the sky’, bring a lightness to the sometimes heavy subjects covered in the show.

The intimate setting of the Space Theatre offers the perfect space for Perahu-Perahu, with the audience able to see close-up the enjoyment of performing on the musicians’ and puppeteers’ faces.

Indonesian-Australian artist Jumaadi and his collaborators have brought an incredible show to the OzAsia festival and one that would be hugely enjoyed by anyone with an appreciation and a love of Asian culture.

Perahu-Perahu offers a great night out at the theatre, and something very different to a traditional show.

Co-Director & Principal Artist: Jumaadi
Co-Director & Musical Director: Michael Toisuta
Dramaturg: Lim How Ngean
Musician: Sawung Jabo
Musician: Mick Stuart
Musician: Kyati Suharto
Shadow maker: Julia Westwood
Shadow maker: Maki Ogawa
Lighting Designer: Susan Grey Gardner

Tickets: $20-$45

Perahu-Perahu will be performed until 30 October 2021 as part of the OzAsia Festival.

Paula Thompson is a journalist who has written for The Advertiser, SA Weekend and the Stock Journal newspapers. She is now freelancing