Premiere 24 August, 1984
Venue Strathmore North Primary School, Victoria

Handspan Theatre Guts table set up in a crowded street with white food objects and performers dressed as king and prince

Guts Main St, Mildura. Performers: Rick Ireland, Prince Wafer and Avril McQueen, King Phlabula
Photograph: © Helen Rickards, 1984
Reveals the company's fascination with objects becoming puppets
Handspan promotional flyer, 1984

Handspan Theatre Guts flyer black text on yellow background
Promotional flyer
Graphic artist: John Dickson, 1984

GUTS was devised by Handspan in 1984 to be a versatile community and school touring show to replace The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek (1980) which by that time had been touring for over three years.

The work was initiated because Handspan was keen to create a 'table top' show that could play for audiences in-the-round, stylistically inspired by some of the small scale puppetry productions of European performers. As the work evolved, the production's scale grew so that it could accommodate the larger audiences that school and community shows required. It remained however, quite literally, a 'table top' show, played in the round.

A portable feast with a table setting for two puppeteers that investigates food and eating habits

Handspan Theatre program booklet, 1984

War and peace

GUTS was inspired by U.K. illustrator, Michael Foreman's, picture book for children, War and Peas1 ,1974 brought to Handspan by its Director, Andrew Hansen. The play written by John Rogers, was an adaptation of the story told in the book about food, hunger, greed and courage.

Foreman’s classic about co-operation between nations pictured a famine-struck country, whose people were led by a lion king, who was so thin he was almost transparent. His pleas to the neighbouring country, made of gross, oversize cakes, bread and sweets, are met with hostility and invasion. Fortuitously as it transpires, the invaders’ tanks plough up the lion's barren land and spill some of their supplies, from which the birds are able to steal and sow seeds, so that he and his people eat again.

In Handspan's production, a starving Prince Wafer, played by Rick Ireland, met an overfed King Phlabula, Avril McQueen in a battle of wills across a dining table. The story played out as the table was set with cutlery, crockery and oversize, all white, food items. The play's climax completed the table setting with a coloured and decorated cake which popped up magically into 3 tiers. The cake's surprise action and its celebratory symbolism solved the arguments between the Prince and King and the situation was resolved through collaboration rather than invasion.

Handspan Theatre Guts costumed actor in blue with colander helmet holding white cardboard pineapple

Prince Wafer (Rick Ireland), Swanston St, Melbourne
Photograph: © Ken Evans, 1985

Handspan Theatre Guts table set up on an oval with audience surrounding the setting with actors - the king, squatting on the table, and the prince looking outraged

Prince Wafer and King Phlabula prepare for battle, Mildura Showgrounds
Photograph: © Helen Rickards, 1984

Handspan Theatre Guts sign on Handspan van

Rick Ireland with a Primary School's welcome sign, South Australia
Company snapshot, 1985
Click photos to enlarge

GUTS was devised in early 1985 and developed in workshop rehearsals while most of the Handspan ensemble were in Purchase, New York during Secrets 1984 tour. It was performed more than 100 times in schools and community locations during 1984 and 1985.

Miniaturised table tops productions remained a fascination at Handspan and led to its later international puppetry workshop project with Jacques Templeraud from France (1989) from which some of its vignette pieces took their inspiration, including No Right Angles in Paradise (1989), Women Alone (1989) and Metafour (1993).

Handspan Theatre Guts costumed actor wearing blue and silver jacket, striped blue and purple tights and silver colander helmet

Prince Wafer, (Rick Ireland) Publicity Photo Costumes created by Jenny Sherlock & Maryanne Rennie, 1984

Handspan Theatre Guts costumed actors squatting in embroidered cloak of green leaves and pink vegetables with a lobster helmet

King Phlabula, (Avril McQueen) Publicity Photo
Photographs: © Stephen Hall, 1984


1 Michael Foreman: War and Peas, Templar Publishing, UK 1974

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Creative team
War and Peas written and illustrated by Michael Foreman, Templar Publishing, UK 1974
Adapted by John Rogers
Director Andrew Hansen
Designer Ken Evans
Producer Helen Rickards
Graphic image John Dickson
King Phlabula Avril McQueen
Prince Wafer Rick Ireland
Production team
Costume makers Jenny Sherlock, Maryanne Rennie
Table construction Simon Fisher
Tour manager Simon Fisher

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August - December Melbourne metropolitan schools tour
September Royal Melbourne Show
Mildura Show, Victoria
October Children’s Activity Tent, Mount Gambier Spring Show, South Australia
7 November Primary schools' Showcase, Handspan Studio, Gertrude St, Fitzroy
February Greening of Swanston St, Victoria's 150th Centenary Celebrations
Come Out Festival, South Australia
Arts Council tour, regional and metropolitan schools South Australia
Total performances 133
Total audience 15,694

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For Young People: