‘The Secret in the Wings’

‘The Secret in the Wings’ – the title being a play on words – by the Tony Award winning writer, Mary Zimmerman. It is a compilation and adaptation of half a dozen, unfamiliar fairy tales. She has blended these quite dark stories to give us a most unusual, fantasy play.

This fastmoving, comical production showcases the immense talent of the younger, acting students in Curtin University’s Theatre Arts programme. It is presented at, and in conjunction with, the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, 1 Short Street, Fremantle, as part of the Fremantle Festival. The short season runs until Saturday 29th October with the 90-minute performances at 7.30 pm.

It is an open stage without any cover or flats on the wings.

As the lights rise, a table and chairs are placed onto stage. A muslin screen appears centre stage; this acts as a backcloth, or as a translucent screen allowing shadowgraphs, or a ‘private look’ at action in another room. Production designer was Julie Reeves. Set design Olivia Dugandzic, and set construction and properties by Matt Arnold and Max Gipson

        Heidi (Kharla Fannon) is sitting at the dinner table with her mother (Ellen Dimitriou) and father (Alex Gerrans). They are a strange couple, who only talk to Heidi through marionettes that are dressed as they are (puppets by Jiri Barec). The parents announce that because they are going out for the evening, that Heidi should stay with the next-door neighbour – The Ogre (operated by Frazer Shepherdson). The Ogre is a strange, bunyip-like creature that has a long tail (designed by Zoë Atkinson, who constructed it with Jiri Zmitko).

        The Ogre is madly in love with Heidi, but he is constantly rejected. The babysitter opens an ancient book of tales and starts to read to Heidi. As piano plays softly in the background (Taisiya Payne), the stories become alive. An old miserable cook (Holly Mason) can be seen stirring her magic bowl in the kitchen. She produces three magical bread rolls (food puppets made by Bec Thorman and Helen Rice) that represent the King’s three daughters. The three daughters sang perfectly in A cappella. Their voices were clear and powerful, outstanding madrigal work (Song arranger Dylan Dorotich).

      The bad tempered and miserable Princess (Shanae Tuxford) demanded to be entertained and made to laugh. Anyone not succeeding was to be beheaded. A series of entertainers (Lizzie Howard, Chelsea Gibson, Caitlin McFeat) tried their best to make her smile, by forming life-sized puppets with lengths of tubing for the arms and legs and balloons for the head. Sadly, after several hundred attempts, the miserable regal child still did not smile.

      Will happiness ever come to the Royal Family and poor Ogre?

The joint directors were Curtin University theatre’s senior lecturer, Leah Mercer and Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s executive Philip Mitchell. Caitlin McFeat and Anna Lindstedt who aided in the dramaturg ably assisted them.  Mary Zimmerman cleverly employs unusual costumes and lighting to fashion the desired effect, here we have the extra gifts of the quality puppets.

This was a wonderful play to watch, filled with magic, terror, song and dance, but it must have been a complex play to present. It was stage managed by Paris Fields, who was assisted by Jack Bengough. Although there is plenty of humour, because of the dark themes and storylines, the ideal age for the audience is probably over 9 years.

The ghostly white costumes were created by Alicia Turner, Sally Davis and Ashleigh Ryan, with assistance of the construction sewing by Maddie Earle-Sadler, Cameron Norton and Bethan Walmsley. The complementary white make up was by Lauren Beeton and Ashleigh Ryan.

The atmosphere of the play relied heavily upon the clever technical effects (lighting designer Stephen Carr), the sound design by Sam Johnson and Julian Sewell (under the mentorship of the highly respected professional, Ben Collins) was superb, blending perfectly with the live music. Likewise, the lighting was vibrant and beautifully paced by Molly Earnshaw and Sam Ireland.

It is easy for a cast to think, ‘this is a children’s show, so we can get away with an average effort’. The truth is that you have to work twice as hard for youngsters; they can be your biggest critics. This show had tremendous pace, filled with athletic action – cartwheels, dancing – beautiful singing; in fact every acting talent was demanded of the performers, and as a terrific team, the cast gave their all to this vibrant production. Most professional and great fun.