Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Punch and the Magic Box Hunky Dory Puppets

Punch and the Magic Box  Hunky Dory Puppets at Belconnen Arts Centre, Tuesday April 17, 2012, 3pm.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

What would you want a chainsaw for?  To open a milk carton, says Mr Punch.  But it makes such a mess.  I don’t know what to do.  What should I do with a chainsaw? 

The littlies say, Cut wood.  What kind of wood?  Tree wood, they say.  Like those trees outside my house?   Should I cut down the trees?  No, say the kids.

And so begins the lesson about our natural environment.  Despite Mrs Kangaroo’s objection that she needs the shade, Mr Punch is so excited to rev up his chainsaw that he cuts down the first two rather ordinary looking trees.  After all, Mrs Kangaroo could just wear a hat.  But when he comes to the big old tree with holes in it, leaves on it, and roots under it, Mrs Galah stops him because of her young babies in the hollow, Koala stops him because he only eats that kind of leaves, and Wombat stops him because he depends on eating those roots. 

On the way we learn that birds being born in tree hollows is just like children being born in hospital, koalas eating leaves is just like children eating leaves – like lettuce (I hope your parents give you lettuce to eat, says Koala), and wombats eating roots is just like children eating carrots (the littlies all liked carrots, just as Mr Punch did).  All through the story, Mr Punch asks the kids, Did you know that?  Yes – well you kids are really clever.  He finally puts his chainsaw away under his bed.

As Hunky Dory Puppets say on their website   The stories we use are devised to be educational, non-violent, positive and always have some kind of intrinsic environmental and people friendly flavour. 

In effect, Marcus and Carolyn Goddefroy apply the principle devised by the doyen of educational drama, Dorothy Heathcote, placing on the children – even 3 and 4 year olds – the ‘mantle of the expert’.  Mr Punch doesn’t know and the children tell him what to do, confirming them emotionally, and then extending their knowledge (about lettuce and carrots, for example).  And the children in the audience I observed certainly participated eagerly – though a couple of rather older kids saw through the device and sometimes deliberately challenged with the wrong answer. 

Typical! is what I would say, as a former teacher.  But Marcus, as Mr Punch, was never fazed, taking up the littlies’ responses and moving the story along.

As well as Carolyn and Marcus being puppeteers and puppet makers (of all kinds of puppets), and offering puppet making sessions for the children (at Belconnen Arts Centre this Thursday or by invitation: just email, Marcus is also a good magician and musician. 

As a lead-in, he involves the children in the action, in role as Hunky the Clown, giving the child volunteers the magic wand and incantations to make the tricks work, since Hunky causes failures because of his big red nose itching or sneezing.  He builds in constant surprises which keep the children on their toes.  With Marcus playing tin whistle, recorder, button and piano accordion, the magic introduces Dory with the dancing string puppets Angelina Angel (whose wings sprout so she can fly) and the rather thin, in fact skeletal, Pete the Pirate who hasn’t eaten for 300 years.  I hope you eat, says Hunky to the kids.

A community arts centre, I guess, has two key functions.  One is to provide exhibitions and performances which increase people’s appreciation of the arts, while the other is to engage people in the creation of art.  Hunky Dory Puppets covers the field in both directions.  It was good to see what they themselves call an ‘old-fashioned’ approach – not ‘slick’, not glossy, with all live music and sound effects, and with the traditional props and Punchinella style booth.  The children certainly didn’t need or miss the racy formula approach of shows like Dora the Explorer, for example, which are designed for massed audiences (and mass financial exploitation, I suspect).

Marcus and Carolyn Goddefroy are to be respected for their commitment to the small scale, personal and genuine concern for children, and their willingness to maintain ‘old-fashioned’ values in their work.  They work out of old European traditions, especially the Dutch, but apply them to themes suited to today’s children in New Zealand where they began their career, in country Queensland for some 17 years, and now in the ‘country’ city, Canberra.

Belconnen Arts Centre has a wide ranging program, but this is the only piece that involves chainsaws.  Coming up soon is everything from dance, kites, visuals, music (at Live@BAC on Fridays 5.30-7.00pm), and even the celebration of the winter solstice.  Go to or ring +61 (0)2 6173 3300 for information  for bookings

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