The Armidale Playhouse
Home   Info   Shows   Contacts   Links

Bunraku: A Percussive Experiment in Contemporary Bunraku

The Armidale Playhouse - February 1995

Directed by Daniel Laws
Produced by Priscilla Hall


La Loba

From the Pueblo Indians

An old woman collects the bones of wild desert animals such as crows and rattle snakes and stores them in the cave where she lives. She especially collects the bones of wolves.

She is circumspect, often hairy, always fat, crows and cackles using more animal sounds than human. She lives among the rotten granite slopes in Tarahumara Indian territory. She is also called La Huesera (Bone Woman), La Trapera (The Gatherer) and La Loba (The Wolf Woman).

When she has enough bones to make a complete skeleton she assembles the bones into their correct places in a body then she sits and thinks of a song. When ready she stands over the creature and begins to sing. The body of the animal returns, then it begins to breathe and then as the singing climaxes the animal returns completely to life and runs off. As it runs off it will sometimes become a laughing woman running free!


A Baltic/Russian Folktale

A young mother lying on her death bed called her daughter Vasilisa close. "Here is a doll for you, my love", producing a doll. "Should you be in need of help, ask the doll, you will be assisted. Keep the doll with you always and tell no one. Feed her when she is hungry. This is my mother's promise to you, my blessings on you dear daughter." and the mother died.

The father remarried a wicked woman with two wicked daughters. They despised Vasilisa and her beauty which was inner and outer. They gave her the worst tasks and finally conspired to be rid of her.

One night, they told Vasilisa that the fire was out and they had no way to relight it. They told her to go to Baba Yaga who would give her fire although they thought she would probably eat her. Vasilisa agreed and set out in the dark to find the house of Baba Yaga with the doll to guide her.

Suddenly a man on a white horse galloped past and it become daylight. Then a man on a red horse rode by and it was sunrise. Just as Vasilisa found the house of Baba Yaga a man rode by on a black horse and it was night. The house was surrounded by a fence of skulls and bones with fire in the skulls.

The house of Baba Yaga stood on huge yellow chicken legs and danced about. Baba swoops down on Vasilisa and screams as her “What do you want?”. Vasillisa asks her for fire and when Baba Yaga wants to know why she she should give it to her she replies, “Because I ask” and that is the right answer. Baba Yaga then says she must perform some tasks for the fire and if she doesn’t then she must die.

The witch gives her the task of cleaning her house and flies off. The doll tells Vasilisa to sleep and does all the work in the allotted time.

The witch returns and calls on her servants to grind the corn for the evening meal. Three pairs of hands appear and grind the corn. Then the witch says Vasilisa must sort the poppy seeds from a great pile of dirt and goes to sleep. Vasilisa is very upset but the doll calms her and sends her to sleep. In the morning the task is finished. The hands appear and press the oil from the seeds.

"Can I ask some questions Grandmother?" asks Vasilisa. Baba Yaga says yes but warns her that sometimes too much knowledge can make a person old too soon. Vasilisa asks Baba Yaga about the horsemen. "The white one is my day, the red is my sunrise and the black is my night" she replies 'Wouldn't you like to ask something else?'' Vasilisa was going to ask about the hands but the doll shook her head so violently she replied, "No grandmother. As  you said too much knowledge can make one old too soon." The Old woman was impressed and said "you are wiser than your years, my girl. How did you come to be this way?"

"By the blessing of my mother" she replied.

"Blessing! Blessing! We need no blessing around here" she screeched. "You'd best be on your way, daughter. And here you'd best take this. There! There is your fire." she said handing her a flaming skull. "Don't say another thing, just go!"

The doll urged Vasilisa to run and she did with the skull and when she thought to throw the skull away the skull urged her to continue.

Though the stepmother thought Vasilisa dead she rushed out to greet her when she saw her coming and scolded her. They went into the house and lit the fire but the skull watched the wicked trio and in the morning they had been burnt to a cinder.

The Drum

A Tale from the Bantu - Africa

A young girl once wandered along a beach looking for colourful shells. She met an ogre with a drum who held in his hand the most beautiful shell ever. “Sing for me young girl and the shell is yours” he told her. As she sang he beckoned her closer and closer. Finally she was in reach and he grabbed her and forced her into his drum. "When I play you must sing" he told her. "Else you die!"

The ogre travelled from town to town and people were so impressed with his singing drum he was soon very rich. One day, however, a prince was looking for his missing bride to be, heard the singing drum and recognised the voice. He demanded that the Ogre release the young girl and the Ogre quickly freed her. The Prince and the girl were married immediately whilst the Ogre, who gave all his money to the girls parents, played at the wedding while the girl sang.


A Tale from the Magho - Africa

Kuluile was a young girl with a passion for dancing. The prince of her country had fallen in love with her but was not allowed to marry her because her passion was to dance and the hunchback dwarf whom every one thought was her father revealed her common background.

One day the large army of Naba Panga declared war on the country and the prince's father banned all dance and celebration till the war was over.

A couple of weeks later Kuluile heard beautiful dance music and soon found herself dancing with some strangers. They were the phantoms of Bald Hill and they captured Kuluile and locked her in a Boabab tree to make her into a phantom as well.

The dwarf went and told the prince and they set off at once to effect a rescue. But on the way they met the Kirikri who asked to have his mane cut. The dwarf convined the prince that is was a good idea and as a reward the Kikikri gave them the powder of life, the powder of death and for good measure his pet spider.

When they got to the tree they found it guarded by a large demon call Naba Singsangue which could not be beaten by a sword. They used the powder of death to kill it and then released Kuluile who had died. They tried the powder of life but were attacked by the phamtoms. The spider did battle with them and held them til dawn when they had to hide from the sun. Kuluile came to life and agreed to marry the Prince.

The dwarf explained that Kuluile was in fact a princess of a distant land but had been under the spell of a magician. They returned to the Palace and with the help of the Kirikri they rid the land of Naba Panga. Every one danced happily at the wedding.


Art, like nature is a process of Birth, Life and Death. And in death we often find a Birth and a Life. Bunraku is an experience" of Birth, Life and Death but because Art and Nature are never as neat as Birth, Life and Death we too have avoided the ease of that cycle, choosing to find Birth between Life and Death.

Llfe is like that, a sequence of choices. We choose our destinies, we choose to give our children the chances we never had and in that deny them the chances we did have. We choose not to take risks, to walk the fine line, to play with fire, and in that we seldom taste the bitterness of defeat and never the sweet nectar of success. Bunraku is about total commitment, about going out on a limb and taking risks whilst accepting responsibility for a bitter failure or revelling in sweet success.

In the use of puppets, we have robbed you of your second language - body language. We offer instead language through movement, not the Puppets, dancers or musicians, but yours - the way you respond to our "created environment" is our second language for you and between this, the rhythms and dialogue is a story that all people know but few languages can tell.

With these thoughts in mind I would like to dedicate this effort to those, who, except for "that cycle" would have "been in it for sure", Megan, Melissa, Jacquiline, Jane, Brett and the other ''Rock 'n' Roll Suicides”.


Puppets: Carolyn, Kamila, Struan, Melita, Sethe, Natalia, Rhiannon, Priscilla
Music: Simon, Adam, Gin, Andrew, Wombi
Dance: Kristie, Kamila, Rhiannon, Priscilla, Linda, Struan, Natalia, Sethe, Melita, Kyra, Eva
Vocals: Eva, Georgie, Kyra


Director: Daniel Laws
Producer: Priscilla Hall
Lighting & Music: Adam Cunningham
Lighting: Isabel, Claire, Linda
Costumes: Gabrielle
Sets: Russell
Printing: Robin
Front of House: Gabrielle, Robin, Debbie


Lisa Thunstom, Mark Aldridge, Bargain Box Fabrics, Armidale Express, New England Conference Management

© The Armidale Playhouse Inc, 2007-2014