Angst and puppets

Herald Sun – 25/10/1993
By Alison Barclay
For And The Ass Saw The Angel

PAUL Newcombe was pottering about, making puppets for shows and working towards his next exhibition, when suddenly an abyss of hellish inner-urban angst looed before him.

It was And The Ass Saw The Angel, a play based on a book by Nick Cave, an Australian writer and musician who reigns supreme among the tortured young men of the Western world.

Cave’s book has only one flesh-and-blood character, Euchrid, played here by Shawn Unsworth. The others are memories, blown out of proportion be Euchrid’s malfunctioning brain.

Black Hole Productions, which is staging the play, harnessed Newcombe’s puppet-making skills to give the memories a physical shape.

Newcombe has made sets and puppets for productions such as Alice in Wonderland, The Nimbin and The Ark of Oz.

Undaunted by the grimness of And The Ass Saw The Angel, he designed puppet dogs, parents and girlfriend for “the black story of Euchrid, born to a depraved and impoverished family of outcasts on the edge of town as he oversees the demise of his parents, answers his calling from God and indulges his peculiar fascination for a girl named Beth”.

Newcombe’s puppets come in all varieties: wooden string dolls, cut-out shadow figures and hand-held polyurethane heads, their faces distorted with hatred.

“Most of them are constructed from whatever we could get hold of,” he said.

“It’s junkyard puppetry. We have open lighting and the puppeteers aren’t in black, and we don’t make any attempt not to be seen.

“There would be over a dozen puppets. It’s a very old art form. It has been used for centuries in Indonesia, Turkey and through Europe.

“Here, they take up different aspects, different characters from the book. Euchrid is in his last moment of life and he is reflecting. All the characters and images are in a dream he has as he sinks into the quagmire.”

Newcombe and his three fellow puppeteers, Nerida Philpot, Rod Primrose and John Rogers, menace Euchrid from all sides as he gives way to his fear of his parents and his impulse to wounding and maiming animals.

“Euchrid is abused, is is confused, he is beaten up by everyone,” Newcombe said.

“He is an oddity in town, andhe creates his own world in a certain way.

“I think from an audience point of view people feel sorry for him because he was so mistreated.

“But even so, he creates his own fantasy and becomes so involved in it that he does in his girlfriend and maintains his father’s going out and trapping animals.”