I thought I had caterpillars covered. I’ve read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, so fully grasp their voracious appetite, and we covered the caterpillar life cycle at school. Just a quick Google on the tube home from Watermans, however, and I realised there’s plenty more to this loveable larvae. Did you know, for instance, that caterpillars basically liquify and digest themselves to become butterflies? And that despite metamorphosing from this mushy soup, butterflies can still recall their caterpillar life? I feel like I’m seeing them for the first time, which is the atmosphere Where Caterpillars Go creates. The abstract set and space-music soundtrack, coupled with the performers’ nervous and baffled initial reaction to the central creepy-crawly, make it feel like we are exploring a new planet for the first time. Travelled Companions’ production looks at the world through a young child’s eyes.
The caterpillar is a returning feature, but the production is about much more than his whereabouts (we never do find out where he sporadically disappears off to, except that final time of course). He is not the only thing living in the garden – there are the beautiful flowers that come and go as the weather, and seasons, change, and the three characters (Andy Frizell, Emma Hirons and Leila Chebii) playing amongst the plants. As the trio fall out and make up, tease each other and learn to share, it is as much about their growth as the eponymous insect’s.
Paper and cardboard are often the central components in sets: Oily Cart’s Light Show, Half Moon’s Up, Up and Away and 20 Stories High/ Theatre-Rites’ The Broke ‘N’ Beat Collective all welcome audiences into paper palaces and cardboard castles to tell their stories. Part of the appeal of these materials is their flexibility, and all the shows have vastly differing aesthetics. Where Caterpillars Go has a colourful geometric style taken straight from the 1960s, with trees made of cut-out triangles and circles. Even the caterpillar puppet’s body is a malleable origami accordion that crawls across all surfaces, including the audience’s heads. Paper fuels the audience interaction – as the weather becomes windy, little pieces of crepe paper are handed out to be softly blown through the air, and the play’s conclusion is celebrated by sprinkling paper confetti across the crowd. The commonplace nature and potential fragility of paper and cardboard make it an effective medium for talking about the cycle of life and loss in a relatable way.
Though there are very few words – ‘caterpillar’ and ‘gone’ are repeated a handful of times – the audience are still engaged using sounds. Realising that their feet make funny noises depending on how and where in the garden they tread, the three performers stamp and blow raspberries to make a sortof fart-tune, one of many moments that demonstrate just how attuned the company are with the young people watching. Where Caterpillars Go is successful because of its simplicity: that doesn’t mean the show is unchallenging, but that it meets children at their level. A production involving a caterpillar concludes as you would expect, but though I might have been able to guess the ending, Travelled Companions recognise that their audience probably won’t.
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