Puppetry and Tragedy at the Waterfront Theatre

by Catherine Ballachey

As part of the Vancouver East Cultural Centre’s ongoing attempt to retain their loyal audience during their renovations, they borrowed the Waterfront theatre this past week to host Théâtre de la Veille 17 and Théâtre de Sable’s production of Maita. The show has toured in French, Spanish, and now, for the first time, in English. Half their performances in French and half in English, the visiting companies told the tragic story of Maita, a 12 year old girl who was taken to work in a toy factory to pay off her father’s debt.

Maita

Based on a real-life tragedy in Thailand, this story was told in no ordinary way. They used dazzling puppetry based on the idea of puppet-performer connection. Although the performers were present and visible on stage, at times, it was difficult to tell where the performer ended at the puppet began, which to me spoke volumes about the adeptness of the puppeteers. Considering how easy it was to be swept up with the detailed puppet techniques, technical choices and stage design, I can see how the show has found such wide-spread acclaim.

I was very impressed with the spectacle they created, but I began to wonder why it was being advertised as a show for children. As it came to its tragic conclusion, a child next to me whispered to his mother: “That wasn’t a very happy ending at all.” Well, of course it shouldn’t have to end perfectly, but I think many of the show’s pertinent themes might have been lost on its age demographic. The children, who filled a majority of the seats in the audience, seemed more preoccupied with the stage magic than with the broad themes centering around the tragedy of child labour.

However, regardless of how the children in the crowd experienced the show it was clear to me that Théâtre de la Veille 17 and Théâtre de Sable have some very interesting things to say. The irony of it was that the characters on stage were being forced to make the toys that many of the younger members of the audience most likely had at home. Could a child have understood that? I do have my doubts about this. Nevertheless, the visiting companies made an ambitious attempt at entertaining children and educating them about the tragedies experienced by children in Asia. It was certainly entertaining, but I’m not sure what a child could have taken home with them other than the pleasure of admiring the pretty puppets onstage.

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