Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

12/10/2012 - 14/10/2012

Otago Festival of the Arts

Production Details

“Hatched is the best thing I’ve ever seen!”– Jack (aged 6)

A young girl, Martha Grimstone, lives with her mother Velvetta and grandfather Elcho. Martha is gifted with the ability to see peoples’ dreams and, in an effort to lighten the heart of her grieving mother, she decides to use magic to create a baby brother. But Martha makes a crucial mistake in the spell and the results are catastrophic!

Hatched is a compelling and magical fairytale about the Grimstone family. The story is told with giant books, old-world marionettes and sign language. Gertrude Grimstone (Asphyxia) and her assistant August (Paula Dowse), the delightful story-tellers and puppeteers, interact with the puppets and play their own role in the Grimstones’ fairytale.

Hatched celebrates the wonder of books, the acceptance of difference, the joy of family love and the simple pleasures in life.

Launched in Australia in 2008, the production has since toured internationally to critical acclaim. Those who enjoy Harry Potter, Edward Scissorhands and The Adams Family will LOVE Hatched. This wonderful family show is perfect fare for the school holidays.


FRI 12 OCT 6:30PM
SAT 13 OCT 2PM & 6:30PM


$38 / $32


Performance gold

Review by Terry MacTavish 14th Oct 2012

This is the sort of theatre that changes your mind. That such subtlety, sensitivity and sheer sweetness should emerge from bold, brash Australia makes me feel with shame that I have misjudged the entire continent.

Seriously, Hatched is an entrancing experience, both for the charming Gothic fairytale, enacted by old-style marionettes, which teaches so disarmingly such a perfect message of love and acceptance, and for the expressive grace of the sign language that is an intrinsic and beautiful part of the show.

Asphyxia, the creator, is Australia’s principal Deaf artist, whose rather romantic history includes being denied her dream of Ballet because of her deafness, only to discover first Circus, then, through a chance encounter in Guatemala, Puppetry.  It is impossible to imagine anyone signing with more eloquence, the lyricism of her arm movements matched by the animation of her face. 

Asphyxia is supremely well partnered by her incredibly efficient interpreter, Paula Dowse.  The rapport between signer and verbal translator is almost tangible, and they share a delightful sense of humour which ripples through the dark fairytale. As Kate De Goldi told Kim Hill this morning at the Frankfurt Book Fair, “It’s like a love affair – no one is going to understand your work like your translator does.”

The two are more than puppeteers or the anonymous, almost invisible manipulators of bunraku, they are also lively characters who interact sympathetically with the puppets.  Gertrude Grimstone, severely elegant in black, is the alter ego of Asphyxia.  Accompanied by her quaint Chaplin-like assistant August (Dowse) who is kept firmly in his place, balancing suitcases, she shares with us the magical story of her greatgreatgreatgreat grandparents. The lovely soundscape and subtle lighting maintain the delicately wistful mood, while the puppeteers’ tender handling of the Grimstones invests them with life.

The suitcases become books, which are opened to reveal tiny sets, the rooms where the ancestral Grimstones live. Devoted care has been lavished on the detail in these settings, particularly Velvetta’s sewing room and apothecary Elcho’s laboratory. After the show the audience will flock down onto the stage to examine the miniature rooms more closely, reluctant to leave this enchanting world.

The puppets themselves are very appealing despite being faintly macabre, like Edward Gorey illustrations, with attenuated bodies and huge dark eyes in pale, melancholy faces. Because their bodies are composed of materials like rope as well as wood they move with a fluidity and softness that is not usual to puppets. Their clothes have a refined Edwardian appearance, especially mother Velvetta’s dark, high-necked gown with its fetching silhouette.

The Grimstones’ story is original and intriguing.  Martha is lonely because her mother still grieves obsessively for her dead husband and the children she will now never have.  Martha finds a book of spells in her grandfather’s apothecary and determines to conjure a baby to ease her mother’s sorrow. She succeeds in creating an egg, from which a baby is hatched.  There is something very different about this baby, and Velvetta is repulsed, but Martha loves him anyway. She names him Crumpet, and in charming contrast to the gothic gloom of the opening scenes, with Velvetta draped inconsolably on her husband’s tomb, Martha plays peek-a-boo with little Crumpet.

The often-comical connection between Asphyxia and Dowse is wonderful to watch as they narrate the story, and they extend this caring interaction to the puppets, who seem to look to them for assistance, like privileged household pets. There is great tenderness in the way the puppeteers help their little creations, carrying Martha when she hurts her foot angrily kicking the sarcophagus, helping her into bed, gently lifting her hand to her mouth so she can express shock or distress.

My fear that Crumpet will be ‘fixed’ for an artificially happy ending is needless, as Asphyxia is far too wise, and too aware of the need for people to learn instead to celebrate those who are different. This is apparent during the question and answer session at the end, when the sign language really comes into its own. The balletic grace of Asphyxia and the amazingly swift and fluent translation by Dowse command my whole-hearted admiration.  Nor have I ever seen kids so quietly attentive and respectful during an after-show discussion.

“This isn’t a question,” says one appreciative woman after Asphyxia has told us how pleased she was to find a way to make a living out of playing with dolls, “I just want to say how beautifully you meld with the puppets.”

“That’s easy,” is the response, “it’s because we love them.”

Clearly so does their rapt audience, and I can pretty much guarantee everyone will fall in love with the puppeteers too. Never mind grandfather’s cunning little laboratory and book of spells, to take a disability and turn it into performance gold to share, now that is true alchemy! 


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