By Justin RouillonThursday 29 Apr 2021TheatreReading Time: 4 minutes
Main Image: Brisbane’s most loved canine family blew audiences away over summer (Darren Thomas). Listen: Jacob Williams talks about puppetry and how he brought the Heelers to the stage.
It’s official – everyone’s favourite Heeler family will return to QPAC’s Playhouse in a strictly limited season from May 4th.
After wowing kids, big kids and critics alike during its sell-out world premiere season at QPAC last December, Bluey’s Big Play The Stage Show returns to Brisbane after a run of shows throughout regional Australia.
Much of the discussion has been around the larger than life Heelers, with Bluey, Bingo, Bandit and Chilli brought to life through the magic and artistry of puppetry. Neighbour ‘Lucky’s Dad’ also appears alongside fan favourites such as Chattermax, the Grannies, Bingo’s walking leaf and Brisbane’s unofficial bird mascot, the humble bin chicken.
Jacob Williams is the Puppetry Director of Bluey’s Big Play, and is one of Australia’s premier puppeteers and the co-artistic director of Lemony S Puppet Theatre.
Along with director Rosemary Myers, Jacob was tasked with turning the international hit TV show into a three dimensional stage show. Despite the laughs found throughout the show, it was a process that was undertaken with seriousness and respect for the juggernaut that is Bluey.
“We took a lot of care and a lot of responsibility to make sure that this beloved show translated on stage with integrity” Jacob told 96five. “There was a lot of pressure to deliver on something that is so loved.”
Jacob fell in love with puppets after discovering Jim Henson’s Muppets in childhood, but it wasn’t until his twenties that he thought seriously about getting involved in the artform.
“I was in Hobart working as an actor in the local theatre scene and there’s a puppet company there called Terrapin. They needed puppeteers so they chose a few actors through a workshop to join the company and I was one of them.
“Puppetry was everything that acting was, but you were given so much more variety with characters that you could play.”
Since then Jacob’s puppetry career has taken him all over the world, and prior to the Bluey Stage Show worked on the Tony Award winning production King Kong, Alive on Broadway.
“If you’d told me all those years ago that I’d be accepting a Tony Award in rooms with people like Brian Cranston and Tina Fey, I would have just pinched myself!”
So how do you take an animation, create some puppets and turn it into a live show? Jacob says thinking about the puppets movements are key.
“I always come at it from what do the puppets do well. That’s where you create choreography for the puppets; sometimes you find by accident something that works really well.”
“Often it’s just experimenting and waving the puppets around and seeing where gravity takes them.”
The other big thing with the Bluey Stage Show, that differs from watching The Muppets or Sesame Street, is that the puppeteers are not hidden from the audience.
“It’s a style I always work with – I never hide the puppeteers. Kids will never see the puppeteers because they’re only interested in the characters.
“When kids play with their Bluey toys they’re doing the same thing the puppeteers are doing with the puppets – all they see is adults playing with the characters. The kids will naturally just be drawn to that imaginative play.”
Bluey’s Big Play The Stage Show runs from 4 to 16 May in QPAC’s Playhouse Theatre.
Bluey’s Big Play The Stage Show joins a raft of other children’s entertainment at QPAC from May to July, with three other fantastic family shows on offer.
Continuing the canine theme, QPAC will present the world premiere of Dogs in the Schoolyard from 5 to 15 May in QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre.
Combining circus, story-telling and original music, Dogs in the Schoolyard is performed by kids for kids. Suitable for all ages, but recommended for children aged 3 – 8 years, it explores themes of inclusion and exclusion, friendship, play and resilience through the lens of young dogs’ experience with other pups.
From the schoolyard to a swamp like no other, Swamp Juice, featuring bickering snails, neurotic snakes, opera singing mice and a cranky man out to capture a bird, will captivate families in the Cremorne Theatre from 1 to 5 June. Swamp Juice is recommended for kids aged eight and under.
The on-stage adventures continue at QPAC with Emil and the Detectives by acclaimed Adelaide-based Slingsby Theatre Company in QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre from 14 to 18 July.
Based on Erich Kästner’s 1929 novella, this is a story about courage and self-discovery, the value of friendships, taking risks, and the empowerment of young people. Emil and the Detectives is recommended for audiences aged eight and upwards.