Storytelling with Shadow Puppets: the Music, Art, and Color of Mochinosha’s ‘Space Hippo’

Stone City Ales: 2018 Official Festival Party Spot
July 17, 2018
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You’ve probably never seen a space opera quite like Space Hippo before—and not just because it stars a purple hippo in an astronaut suit!

A darling of the Canadian Fringe circuit and beyond, Mochinosha (a puppet company consisting of husband and wife duo Seri Yanai and Daniel Wishes) have toured their latest hit, Space Hippo, across Canada, and were most recently seen at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Racking up awards hand over first, including Best Overall Show at the Victoria Fringe, Space Hippo arrives in Kingston in August on the back of a significant cult following.

The elevator pitches of Mochinosha’s previous shows might offer a glimpse at the type of fantastical, offbeat, and comical tales these two storytellers like to spin. 2014’s The Devil’s Circus was a hilarious take on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice that involved trick puppets and unlikely heroes. Their next show, Oni, was a cheeky adults-only erotic fairy tale about a tiny samurai. 2015’s Debristold a moving tale of personified debris floating in the ocean, while 2018’s Shadow Kingdom was a Wonderland-style adventure featuring a young girl and an Owl determined to rid the world of dreaming. Their oeuvre spans audiences and genres, but the main threads are a dedication to imagination and keen sense of humour.

Space Hippo is no exception. In a nutshell, here’s the basic plot of this lovably weird space opera. With five years left before an ecological disaster hits, humanity’s last hope involves—naturally— blasting a hippo into the far reaches of outer space. Once there, the hippo finds herself mistaken for an alien goddess, and is promptly embroiled in a variety of intergalactic conflicts. She comes across a full cast of kooky characters, including a bluesy Lizard Man and a Japanese-speaking FoodRobot. The result is a show full of inventive visuals and boatloads of whimsy, but also plenty of smart, thoughtful satire.

All of this is told on a cinematic scale through intricately hand-crafted shadow puppets, using paper cut-outs and plastic film manipulated in front of flashlights. What emerges from these simple tools is pure magic. Puppeteers Seri Yanai and Daniel Wishes switch, flip, move, and operate an outrageous number of paper puppets and set pieces to create luminous alien worlds and colourful galactic landscapes, all of it beautifully punctuated by the pale mauve of its hippo protagonist.

The beauty and skill of this style of theatre is in the way it turns visual art into a medium that uses motion, music, and cinematic choreography to tell its story. You get the best of so many art forms: in a single show, you get the beautifully drawn puppets, the spontaneity of live performance, the panning and motion of a film camera, and—as an added bonus—the gorgeous score and songs composed by Elliott Loran. If you’re the sort of person who thinks puppets are for Sesame Street, I implore you to leave your expectations at the door and give this wonderfully unique and artful show a try. It’s a perfect fit for science fiction fans, for art lovers, or simply for anyone looking for a good laugh.

Space Hippo is currently set to play at the Grand Theatre’s Regina Rosen Auditorium as part of the Kick & Push Festival from August 1st-4th, 2018. Tickets are $20 plus handling fee, and can be purchased through the Grand Theatre box office, or online: https://www.kingstongrand.ca/events/space-hippo

By: Lin Young

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