“This is pretty cool,” says Isabelle (Izzy for short) when she arrives with her parents at the old house. There’s unpacking and cleaning to do, but Izzy sets off to explore the local terrain instead.
As she investigates, she records her daily adventures in her “survival log”. Nothing fazes her. When she observes strange occurrences following the discovery of a child’s shoe unearthed from beneath the doorstep, she’s baffled but not scared. She doesn’t lose her nerve, even when the goings-on get seriously spooky.
Described as an adventure story designed for children to “overcome their fears and expand their imagination”, Inside the Walls combines paper engineering, puppetry, projection, shadow, video animation and surround sound to build a magical world.
The drama unfolds with the help of the pop-up book, an assortment of tiny paper props and some technological trickery.
Inside the Walls is presented by Melbourne’s Salt and Poppet Theatre. The company’s lead artist, Theresa O’Connor, created the show during her Children’s Literature Fellowship at the State Library of Victoria, after spending time researching the library’s collection of pop-up books.
As we watch O’Connor manipulate the book as well as the puppets, we can see how the effects are being created – having the action projected onto a large screen above the performance space ensures all members of the audience can easily view the detail of the models and their movements.
The sound design brings together recorded vocals and sound effects, while O’Connor manipulates the lighting to focus our attention on specific areas of the set.
There was a touch of restlessness from some of the younger audience members to begin with, as initial scene-setting sequences meant it took a while to become fully absorbed in the story. It wasn’t long, however, before Izzy’s detective work reeled everyone in.
During a brief question and answer session at the end of the show, O’Connor explained the work’s connections to historical practices and satisfied our curiosity about the behind-the-scenes machinations of various aspects of the performance. The conversation also served as a chance to dissolve any lingering unease (the show features some creepy moments and a couple of surprises).
It’s worth noting that Inside the Walls is recommended for ages six and over (my 10-year-old companion loved it), as the performance includes loud noises and some scary moments, and requires intense concentration over an extended period of time to follow what is a reasonably complex narrative.
If you’re looking for a unique Fringe experience, this is the show for you. Salt and Poppet Theatre have created a work of whimsy and intrigue that is compelling and absolutely delightful – one that will surely inspire some audience members to go home and get out the paper and scissors.
Inside the Walls: A Giant Pop-Up Book Ghost Story is being presented at Ukiyo in Gluttony again on March 16 and 17. See more Adelaide Fringe reviews and stories here.
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