Theatre "Zapperdockel and The Wock" introduced the joys of puppetry to a generation of television addicts

Quaintly named "Zapperdockel and The Wock" was presented in Chennai by "Aha", the children's repertory of Ranga Shankara, Bangalore, and Britannia, at the Kalakshetra auditorium. The show was designed and directed by Wally and Paul Schmidt, directors of Salt and Pepper Company, Nuremberg.

Arundhati Nag, Ranga Shankara's creative director, announced that the production had been staged before 50,000 children in Bangalore, as part of a festival that had also introduced old forms such as Kattaikoothu and Yakshagana to schoolgoers.

A study in contrast

Georg Bydlinski's "Zapperdockel and The Wock" had two actor-puppeteers shaping a slapstick comedy, rather reminiscent of silent movies, peppered with elements from magic shows. While the manipulators wore the familiar hat and black coat of party magicians, the puppets themselves, crafted by Anurupa Roy, made a study in contrast. The donkeyish Zaps were small, yellow and tame, while the dinosaurish Wocks were large, pink-n-blue, and wild.

The sets opted for a canny, user-friendly simplicity - a square space girded by poles and strung with multi-purpose hooks and ropes. At strategic moments, a suspended bag poured and scattered what looked like sand; a walking stick was balanced to serve as weighing scales, a pulley jerked a cardboard carton off the floor. A big green box became the centre piece, swivelled around or turned upside down to open various compartments.

While the Zaps emerged from these hiding places, the Wocks were pumped up to balloon into beasts. The creatures rained water from different orifices. A tiny Zap rained a never-ending flood of tears. Other tricks included the blowing up of a bag with a blue gas flame which then zoomed up amidst applause.

There was no conventional narrative. We begin by meeting a single Zap, whose gregariousness is intensified by the arrival of a flock of its kind. The Wocks appear next, gawky and aggressive. Squabbles and scuffles follow. The sparse dialogue of gibberish and English was interspersed with phrases such as "Life is as joyful as a yellow windmill, a garden hose." After several encounters between the Zaps and the Wocks, we are left with a cute final visual - a Zap nestling against a Wock, as the backscore plays - believe it or not - the song of universal friendship written by the Paramacharya of Kanchi and made famous by M.S. Subbulakshmi. What else but "Maitreem bhajata"!

The music composed by violin duo, Ganesh and Kumaresh, was fun-spliced, raga-based and essentially Indian, but remained unconnected to the pace or the rhythms of action.

The puppeteers too moved with a deliberation minus that nippy sense of timing characterising comedy. Nor did they display the kind of sweeping flair associated with sleight-of-hand tricks.

Holding the attention

The children were seated too far away, and the vast Kalakshetra theatre was quite unsuitable for the kind of intimacy and engagement demanded by the production. And yet, on that day, this welcome venture of introducing the joys of puppetry to a generation of television-addicts managed to hold the attention of the audience of school children.