On the surface, the Tales of Beatrix Potter seems to be a strange selection for the one-man show from Applause Unlimited, but just as he has in previous guest performances, story teller and puppeteer Christopher Hubert pulls it off with ease.
He guides the audience through the magical moments of make believe with a gentle spirit and quiet manner reminiscent of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. With hand puppets and a simple box set, he presents three Beatrix Potter favorites, each relaying its own messages of care and consideration for others, told with wonder and even hints of lurking danger, especially in the last tale. Nothing is as simple as it first appears in the talented hands of an experienced entertainer, in this case, literally.
Even before messy mice take the stage and wreak expected havoc when the doll house door is left unlocked in the first story, Hubert sets the scene by introducing a large scaled girl puppet as the “mistress” of the house, who silently listens attentively to all the stories, pondering the character’s fate and wishes everybody well. Her small doll size counterpart fits nicely in the house and chair and takes part in the scene. The mice have a field day frolicking around the house like Thing 1 and 2, knocking over blocks and even the table and chairs in raucous glee, but they diligently clean up the mess to ease the little girl’s distress for a neat and happy ending.
In the second tale, a well-meaning frog learns valuable lessons about being prepared for anything, including being swallowed by a whale and living to tell about it.
The final story, the longest and most involved, tells of a Mom Duck who was a notoriously bad “sitter,” meaning she wouldn’t take the time to sit properly on her eggs to hatch before they got cold. The waddling duck even resented attempts of a surrogate chicken to fill in and instead, went through an elaborate scheme to hide the eggs, and even learned to fly across the wooded area, a funny trip to watch.
The Mom duck learned some valuable lessons about who to trust when she enjoyed the company of a genteel smooth talking fox who befriended her for all the wrong reasons. Again, puppeteer Hubert brings all the characters to life with fun loving appeal changing the simple box sets with a flip of the wrist and depicting the duck flying across the pond with a rod and back lit projections. Terry Snyder designed the set, the puppets and even directed, while Dan Brooks handled the lights, instrumental in the back-lit projections.
Applause Unlimited is not flashy and instead relies on basic story telling to take the audience on the journey strengthening their imagination muscles along the way. This rendition of several of Beatrix Potter’s favorite tales shows how traditional, even low tech artistry can still work magic no matter how sophisticated the technology becomes.
It all comes down to the story and a seasoned story teller to bring it to life, and that’s just what happens with these beloved tales at the Puppet Company.
Tales of Beatrix Potter
Performed by Christopher Hubert, Applause Unlimited
Produced by The Puppet Company
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Running time: 50 minutes with no intermission
Rating of the show: Recommended