When Justine Warner looks out across the theatres she's performing in this month, she'll be keen to see if young Kiwis come to The Very Hungry Caterpillar armed with their copies of Eric Carle's beloved children's book.

Having performed the show across Australia nearly 300 times in three years, puppeteer Warner says it still makes her smile to see youngsters excitedly holding up their copies of Carle's best-seller for the caterpillar puppet to see.

She also gets a buzz at how adults respond to the show. Melbourne-based Warner, one of Australia's most in-demand puppeteers, says some dads shyly admit they thought they were bringing their kids to see a children's show but became fully engrossed. She's even seen a mother and daughter cry tears of joy at seeing the show - and the daughter was 23.

"For many adults, it's a walk down memory lane because it's a book nearly all of us have read and loved," she says. "It means there's often three generations in the audience".


The Very Hungry Caterpillar has been very popular indeed. Since its 1969 publication, the story of a caterpillar who can't get enough to eat - until a fateful Saturday when he really overdoes it - has sold more than 30 million copies and been translated into 40 languages.

"When I was at primary school, I was fascinated by the holes in the book - where the caterpillar has been eating - and I think the tactile nature of the book probably played a part in its popularity," says Warner.

Much-loved it may be, but the simple story is hardly enough to sustain a full theatre production. It's performed alongside three of Carle's other stories, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, Mr Seahorse and The Very Lonely Firefly.

It makes it a rather big show - there are 75 puppets in total, four puppeteers and two stage assistants.

"I sometimes get asked if I ever get bored doing the show, but how could I when I see the audience with so many grandparents, parents and kids in it," says Warner. "Many of those kids are coming to the theatre for the first time and how wonderful is it to be a part of someone's first theatre experience?"

• The Very Hungry Caterpillar starts a New Zealand tour in Auckland today followed by shows in Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill.

14 Jul, 2017 12:59pm
3 minutes to read

Theatre preview

What: The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show

Where & when: Bruce Mason Centre, today - Saturday