Below the Belt

Premiere 20 March,1997
Venue Powder Room, Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Below The Belt Handspan Theatre promotional still - bare-chested man holding a sequinned lady puppet

Below the Belt John Rogers with Gilda
Photograph (detail) © James Penledis, 1997

Versitility is the name of the puppet.
Kate Herbert: The Herald, Melbourne, 1997

BELOW THE BELT was the umbrella title for three short works developed by individual Handspan Theatre members for performance at the 1997 Melbourne International Comedy Festival..

BELOW THE BELT was the first work directed by the recently appointed Artistic Director at Handspan, David Bell, and the last membership-initiated project produced by the company.

The works in BELOW THE BELT were unrelated but loosely linked in expressing the darker side of sexuality and seduction billed as 'three new twisted tales that sit somewhere below the belt'1 . The work included:


Devised by Heather Monk, Waiting was a whimsical piece about a lonely waitress looking for love and ravished by a large and lewd puppet lobster.

This is as strange as it sounds.

Kate Herbert: Sun Herald Melbourne 1997


Devised by Rod Primrose Gilda was a miniature piece set in a mini-Victorian theatre which transformed as the action progressed, following a drag queen’s travails in her escape from 'the hell of conformity'.

This is as strange as it sounds.
It begins quite traditionally and quickly develops into a modern day Punch and Judy drag show. A loud and pumping soundtrack including divas Kylie Minogue and Eartha Kitt works remarkably well when lipsynced by a six-inch high marionette in drag.

Rob Gravestocks: The Age, Melbourne, 1997

The piece was the next evolution of a series of creative development projects: Gilda Tonight (1994) and Gilda Under Glass (1995), the latter performed in the Myer Bourke St Melbourne windows for the 1995 Melbourne International Festival. Critics writing of BELOW THE BELT found this piece the highlight of the three.

The high point of 'Below the Belt' was Gilda written by Rod Primrose and performed with John Rogers, both of whom are highly skilled puppet-masters and makers with a long history with Handspan. Gilda is a transporting moment in the theatre.

Gilda is a miniature female in sequined gowns who sings her way from the Gates of Hell. The puppeteers are visible on stage and establish a sensual relationship with their figurine. The piece has a delicate beauty and romance as well as a mythic quality. It is finely wrought and the figure’s manipulation is masterly.

Kate Herbert: The Herald, Melbourne, 1997

Sugar On Top
Sugar on Top from Handspan Theatre's Below the Belt large puppet stripper with 3 operators
The Stripper and the Bouncers
Photographer unknown

This vignette by Liss Gabb with Katrina Gabb and Heather Monk portrayed a stripper who turns the tables on her bouncers.

The exotic dancer peels off her panties, her feather boa, her G-string: then her legs, her pelvis and finally her pert breasts one by one.
She is a life-size puppet and the bouncers are three women in drag "manipulators".

Kate Herbert: The Herald, Melbourne, 1997

A brief, rauchy skit, Sugar on Top was a revised version of Liss Gabb's sketch that the cast had previously staged independently at the Builders Arms Hotel, Fitzroy for the 1994 Melbourne Fringe Festival.

After BELOW THE BELT’s Showcase appearance at the Comedy Festival the work was not retained in the Handspan repertoire.

BELOW THE BELT was the last Handspan Vignettes production - works that developed puppetry manipulation performance in flexible styles that accomodated individuals interests of its artistic membership based on experimentation with new possibilities in animated object performance.

Under David Bell’s leadership Handspan Theatre was renamed Handspan Visual Theatre signalling a removal from Handspan's puppetry-based performance design.
at the same time as long-standing artistic membership continued to lapse in the new era.


1 Handspan advertising copy Below the Belt 1997

Scroll back to Click Tab: The People & The Performances

Creative team
Director David Bell
Devised and designed Heather Monk
Soundtrack music Pascal Comelade & Hughes Le Bars
Creative development (1996) Ariette Taylor, Rod Primrose, Ben Cobham, Philip Lethlean & Heather Monk
Devised and designed Rod Primrose
Soundtrack music Erasure, Kylie Minogue, Eartha Kitt, Portishead & Hugh Wayland
Puppet maker Rod Primrose
Creative development (1994) Rod Primrose, Hugh Wayland, John Rogers, Paul Newcombe, Rob Matson, Christine Mooney, Tony Hood, Matthew Hood, Boris Conley & Victoria Huff
Sugar on Top
Devised and designed Liss Gabb
Original director Peta Murray (1994)
Soundtrack Music The Reverend Horton Heat & L7
Puppet Maker Colleen Crapper
Project collaborators Shane Grant, Nik Pajanti, Johnboy Davis & Pamela Morrow
Waiting Heather Monk & Liss Gabb
Gilda Rod Primrose & John Rogers
Sugar on Top Liss Gabb, Katrina Gabb & Heather Monk (1997)
Megan Cameron, Liss Gabb & Katrina Gabb (1994)
28 March – 20 April 1997 Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Total performances 24
Total audience Unknown

Scroll back to Click Tab: The Production