Review: Duck, Death and the Tulip, Auckland Arts Festival

By Janet McAllister

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Peter Wilson adapted and stars in Duck, Death and the Tulip. Photo / Stephen A'Court
Peter Wilson adapted and stars in Duck, Death and the Tulip. Photo / Stephen A'Court

The original Duck, Death and the Tulip is an exceptionally stunning "sophisticated" picture book, written by Wolf Erlbruch and famously translated by Wellington's Gecko Press.

The makers of this puppet theatre show, then, have given themselves a challenge: they've attempted to adapt what is primarily adult/young adult literature for 4-8-year-olds.

To a large extent, they succeed. Director Nina Nawalowalo gets the calm pacing right and Little Dog Barking Theatre Company puppeteers Peter Wilson (who adapted the book) and Kenneth King are wizards at making Duck and Death seem real.

The costumes and puppets - dead ringers for the book illustrations - are spot-on (Death's faded gingham is so comforting). Gareth Farr's piano-based score is fittingly sweet and whimsical. The action is gentle; in spite of an ending that (spoiler) may be found sad, there is nothing here to scare anyone, young or old.

As in the book, Death doesn't cause death: "Life takes care of that. The coughs and colds and all the other things that happen to you ducks."

But while dialogue sticks closely to the original, the book's deadpan humour has got lost in translation and opportunities to add new slapstick - every child's delight - aren't taken up. The puppet duck dancing with a human dressed as mild-mannered Death is not as ridiculously silly as it could be.

But some more funnybone is all that's needed to line up all the ducks in a row for a wonderful show.

Arts Festival review

What: Duck, Death and the Tulip
Where: Loft, Q Theatre
When: March 11-13
Buy tickets now!

- NZ Herald

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