Nutty take on creationism is inspired madness

A Review of Coop
The Age
By Cameron Woodhead

COOP achieves a brilliant synergy between puppetry and visual theatre. The show is inspired by an Hieronymus Bosch triptych, Garden of Earthly Delights. And the apple does not fall far from the tree.

Black Hole Theatre’s nutty take on biblical creationism is suffused with comic grotesquery and a strange and striking symbolism that I suspect would continue to pose mysteries after several viewings.

The show reworks the Book of Genesis into a tale about a delusional old coot with a God complex (Rod Primrose) who lives in a chicken coop with his son (Conor Fox) and daughter (Tamara Rewse).

It opens with Primrose sitting on a hay bale petting a live chicken, an image swiftly displaced by an inspired display of shadow puppetry, one that takes its cue from the reverse panels of Bosch’s painting.

The story of the Garden of Eden is projected onto a market umbrella. A capricious God painstakingly creates the tree of knowledge, while writhing silhouettes morph through the iconography of original sin. An apple transmutes into a surreal depiction of Adam and Eve, with human faces and serpent bodies.

The following sequence is a quirky representation of Noah and the Deluge.

The daughter pours water over her father’s head. He makes an ark from cantaloupe and strawberries before proceeding to eat it.

Winged creatures appear, which might be angles or their opposite. Eggs magically vanish, return and multiply; a row of puppet hatchlings bop away to a Chipmunks version of the Carpenters’ Close to You.

Coop is madness, of course, but there’s so much method in it that every element of design and performance coheres.

Visually, it’s the equivalent of a poem for the stage. Ben Cobham’s set and lighting, Michelle Heaven’s choreography and the masterful manipulations of the performer-puppeteers combine to create a compelling and bizarre alternative universe.

Kelly Ryall’s unhinged sound design is one of his best yet. And full credit to director Nancy Black for marshalling the vast talents of her collaborators into such funny, beguiling and ingenious theatre.