The Carnival of the Animals

Co-Production HANDSPAN THEATRE and the
Premiere 7 April, 1983
Venue Melbourne Concert Hall, Victorian Arts Centre
Only a management such as an Arts Centre could easily and quickly put together a production with nearly forty performers and present it to 9000 children in two days.
Andrew Bleby, Lowdown, Vol 5. No 2. May 1983

A concert performance at the Rotunda Adelaide Zoo, elephant head puppet and children watching

The Carnival of the Animals: The Elephant, Adelaide Zoo, Come Out Festival 1984
Company snapshot
Click photos to enlarge

THE CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS was produced and presented by the Education Department of the Victorian Arts Centre for their first school performance in the recently opened Concert Hall (now Hamer Hall).

Susie Leigh, Education Officer at the Centre commissioned Handspan to create and animate visual, puppetry-based images to appear in concert with Saint-Saëns score played by the Victorian College of the Arts orchestra and with Fred Parslow, the Narrator for Ogden Nash's verse.

The work was performed for a short schools' audience season in Melbourne and was toured in the following year by Cate Fowler, Education Officer at the Adelaide Festival Centre for South Australia's Come Out Youth Arts Festival. In Adelaide it was re-staged for outdoor performance at the rotunda of the Adelaide Zoo, narrated by Kerry Walker and played by the Adelaide Department of Further Education Orchestra.

Handspan's contribution to the production was ambitious particularly for four performers.

In the Melbourne Concert Hall, the performance opened and closed with brief promenade scenes through the auditorium and on stage with the orchestra, performed by the Kangaroo, Platypus, Emu and Bunyip (from The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek) who protested the lack of Australia animals included in the The Carnival ... to the Narrator, and suggested nonsense verses (and appropriate tunes) of their own for inclusion amongst Ogden Nash's poems:

The Emu is a leggy bird
Well-known throughout Australia
She rules the mile in record time
But at flying she's a failure

Scriptwriter: Tony Rickards, 1983

All but the Kangaroo were dismissed, and the Carnival of the Animals began. Each musical section was introduced by Parslow's narration and accompanied by animated, choreographed images of the creatures, including the Kangaroo, who are actually part of Saint-Saëns score.

The new venue supplied a purpose built scrim and black drapes that filled the vaulting proscenium space for the production and enabled the images to appear magically in corridor lighting. There were a lot of puppets required and all had to be spectacular and large enough to have an impact in the vast concert hall, and flexible enough to be manipulated by only four performers who stood high up on narrow rostra and operated their puppets at arms length, overhead, in order for them to be visible above the orchestra, from the stalls.

A concert was turned into theatre by inviting Handspan to illustrate each animal which they did using large costumes, cut-out and puppets behind a huge scrim onto which was projected suggestions of jungle, sky and sea. Fish, fossils, birds and the lumbering elephant all looked beautiful although occasionally some problems were encountered - it can be difficult to light two-dimensional cut-out from side-lighting only. Scenes featuring mules (ears and tail only), a pianist (a large unfurling keyboard with hands) and a cuckoo (complete with a giant clock) showed imaginative promise but did not come across with enough strength.

Review: Andrew Bleby, Lowdown, Vol 5. No 2. May 1983

Adelaide Zoo, 1984

In Adelaide, for outdoor performance in broad daylight, the Australian animal preamble was dropped and the images which accompanied the orchestral sections of The Carnival ... were adapted for movement sequences viewed in the round, outside the rotunda within which the orchestra played.

2 people inside rotunda holding up large flat stylised turtle images on sticks, facing out to audience


2 people outside parkrotunda holding aloft large brightly-coloured fabric goldfish on sticks


outside view of park rotunda with people holding up a large fabric banner representing piano keys played by 2 large foam hands on sticks


musicians inside park rotunda with 2 pianos and percussion section, old elaborate weighing machine in forground

Company snapshots, 1984
Click photos to enlarge

In 1984 Susie Leigh again commissioned Handspan for a similar production at the Concert Hall, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, designed and directed by Trina Parker for which no records have been found in the archives.

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Creative team
Creative Producer Susie Leigh
Puppetry Director Helen Rickards
Designer Ken Evans
Additional music Paul Baeyertz
Producer (Adelaide) Cate Fowler
Narrator Frederick Parslow (Melbourne)
Kerry Walker (Adelaide)
Musicians (Melbourne) Victorian College of the Arts Orchestra
Musicians Adelaide Department of Further Education Orchestra
Puppeteers Carmelina Di Guglielmo
Andrew Hansen
Peter J.Wilson
Winston Appleyard
7 - 8 April, 1983 Concert Hall, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne
9 May, 1983 Rotunda Adelaide Zoo, South Australia
Total performances 8
Total audience 10,000

Scroll back to Click Tab: The Production