27 October, MTG, HBAF18 By Tryphena Cracknell
Death isn’t the most obvious subject that springs to mind for a children’s theatre production but this show, adapted by Little Dog Barking’s Peter Wilson from Wolf Erlbruch’s beautifully illustrated book, Duck, Death and the Tulip presents it in the simplest way, as part of life.
When Death appears to Duck, after a lifetime of being out of sight, but by her side (in case she needed him), Duck is initially suspicious but as they spend time together, a friendship develops. They swim in the pond, drink tea, climb a tree and dance. They talk about the afterlife too, inconclusively, which leaves this nicely open to interpretation of belief.
Set designers Sue Hill and Nicole Cosgrove keep the stage fairly utilitarian, with plenty of black for the puppeteers to melt into, supported with tight directional lighting. Director Nina Nawalowalo and the Little Dog Barking team do a superb job of making Death’s transitions between puppet and man and Duck’s shifts from puppeteer to puppeteer work seamlessly.
Highly acclaimed composer Gareth Farr developed the score, which shifts in rhythm and tempo to sensitively complement the action. The volume during the opening scene though was quite loud, especially for those in the front rows.
From the opening “Quack” to Duck’s final farewell, the crowd stays engaged, especially in the magical interludes of silent physical comedy. Jokes are layered in well for all ages. Duck hiding from Death draws on the oldie, but goodie, “He’s behind you” gag. For adults there are some hilarious death idioms slipped in like, “Death warmed up” and “Dancing with Death”.
Sometimes you have to laugh or you’d cry, but there is some of that too with a few sobs around the room at the end when with a light sprinkling of snow to represent the final season of her life, (spoiler alert) Duck dies. Death holds her, and stroking her feathers, tenderly lays her down on the great river, represented by a long swathe of fabric. He places the tulip on her chest, and watches after her as the river takes her away, with a pragmatic yet still poignant, ”That’s life!” as he picks up his suitcases and leaves.