TITANIC: The Marionette Show

BATS Theatre (Out-Of-Site) Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington

04/06/2013 - 08/06/2013

Production Details

The Titanic has been a symbol and an inspiration for over a hundred years. What does she stand for? For this Marionette show she is a sign of the ongoing drive of humans to go higher, wider, faster, lower than ever before. Though sometimes these desires end up, as the Titanic itself, in despair.

It is the ‘boom and bust’ mentality of our global capitalism, spoken about so frequently, that inspired this production. Within this, the Titanic stands as a beacon of remembrance. One hundred years before this mighty ship descended into the sea, in the year 1812, the Brothers Grimm published a collection of fairytales. One of these stories, ‘The Fisherman and His Wife’, deals with the same aspect of our human existence.

This Marionette show is performed within the confines of a traditional Marionette stage. Only the performing figures are seen and the people manipulating them are behind a screen – certainly a symbol of our time as the ‘backdoor dealings’ in the world are rarely exposed. We see, but is it all real? This ‘idyllic’ situation is frequently interrupted and we wonder who is in control of what and who controls whom. The interaction between the Marionettes and their environment is a critical aspect of the whole performance and ensures the show is filled with surprises throughout. Who are they really and why do they have a mind on their own?

The Marionettes are expertly carved, assembled, dressed, painted and hung by Norbert Hausberg. Since 1984, Norbert has performed Marionette shows with his Strings Attached Puppet Theatre here in New Zealand. Usually performing on his own, he this time he is assisted by Java Katzur (acting and Marionette manipulation) and Werner Nowitzki (Sea Captain of the Titanic and producer).

There is the obvious German Marionette tradition that Norbert Hausberg originates from, but he has also been working for nearly 30 years in New Zealand and around the world. Norbert’s experience and sources of inspiration have been broadened through numerous tours and festival representations around the world, so that we now find there are references to puppet traditions in Japan and those of the Czech Republic in his work. As a side note, both those countries have a very long tradition in puppetry and are hugely inspiration to everyone involved in this art form.

An important aspect of Norbert’s work is that there is no fixed blueprint that the Marionettes are created from. These are carved wooden individuals, who are created with their individual personalities in mind.

Marionettes are first mentioned in Europe in the early middle ages. Two people are seen working figures on strings, who look like knights. Traditional societies in the Americas, Asia, Africa and here in New Zealand used strings and carved figures to create…. well, we can’t be too certain: magic, education, transmission of knowledge. What is left today is a fascinating art form appreciated around the world at numerous festivals, on TV, film and in live performance, that is as enduring and captivating as in the beginning of cultural creation.

We hope that with TITANIC: The Marionette Show you will be as fascinated by the art form and transported on the same magical journey that people are around the world are every day.

BATS Theatre – Cnr Cuba and Dixon Streets
Tickets: $16 full price / $14 concession / Groups 6+ $15
Book online www.bats.co.nz or (04) 802 4175
Tuesday 4 – Saturday 8 June, 6.30pm
English language matinee – Friday 7 June, 2pm
German language matinee – Saturday 8 June, 2pm

Feels thrown together

Review by Hannah Smith 05th Jun 2013

Do not be misled by the title – this is not the story of The Titanic told with marionettes. It is hard to put ones finger on what exactly it is instead, but it is certainly an unexpected theatrical experience. 

We are ushered into the theatre by a slightly menacing sea captain who wishes us well on this maiden voyage of the Titanic. Then we are launched into a surreal fable in the style of the Brothers Grimm about an old man, his wife and a fish that grants wishes, interspersed with Titanic references and comic asides on contemporary issues. 

The fairy-tale is traditional in style, but the breaking of the fourth wall and occasional disintegration of the relationship between puppets and puppeteers, performers and audience, lend a Lynchian weirdness to proceedings.  This is intriguing but, so far as I can tell, does not build to or reinforce any dramaturgical point.

All puppets are voiced by writer/director/marionette-maker Norbert Hausberg.  This voice-over is transmitted via a lapel mic, which unfortunately pops and crackles in a distracting fashion, and the combination of sound distortion, the slight German accent, and the disembodied quality of the voice adds to the sense of the bizarre; as do the abrupt lighting transitions. 

The marionettes are beautiful, and beautifully made, and clearly a love of this artform prompts the work, but it appears that at least a few of the characters have been co-opted in from some other story (I’m looking at you, yellow dwarf Will.I.Am, and also you, Stumpy One-leg) and do not have any demonstrable relevance to the main storyline.

The production as a whole feels thrown together; a collection of elements that have not yet coalesced into a coherent whole. Perhaps there is the germ of a future work in here but without further incubation and editing it is not yet ready.  As it stands the show offers a confusing and unusual audience experience. I can’t really sum up better than the comment from the ten year old in our party: “I didn’t get it.”


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