Lunatic Soup

Premiere 31 July, 1991
Venue Melbourne Metropolitan Secondary School (unknown)
… the zany fun in Lunatic Soup is finding its mark. And with it, hopefully, the message.
Peg Morgan, The Melbourne Leader, 24 September, 1991

Handspan Theatre Lunatic Soup red and white handbill designed to look like a soup can .

Production Handbill, 1992

LUNATIC SOUP was developed by Handspan in 1991 to follow the company’s successful secondary schools touring production, We Repeat Ourselves (1989/90).

Both plays were written by Gilly Farrelly (McInnes) with Handspan artists, and originally directed by Avril McQueen. Both were issue-based works that aimed to use the powerful tool of puppetry performance to introduce taboo topics, and as a springboard and stimulus for discussion with upper secondary school students.

LUNATIC SOUP tackled issues of substance use and abuse, particularly highlighting the perils of alcohol and cigarettes.

Played in and around a black theatre booth, puppet characters, Michael and Carol are inveigled into a warehouse heist by Mr Millyun to steal cans of ‘lunatic soup’ – and drink it!

Mr Millyun:...I, Mozart Millyun have bottled it!

Puppeteer:.. Bottled what?

Mr Millyun:...
Bottled the feeling dear friends. The feeling. I’ve bottled it, canned it, wrapped it, processed and packaged it. I’ve put it in drinks, food, pills and powders, in sprays and granules. Something for every occasion… for a small remuneration, also known as cash in hand, you get the thing from me. And what does it do? It does what we all long for – it Makes Life Easier!!

Mr Millyun:... Soup dear friends!! To be precise … Lunatic Soup!!

Extract: Lunatic Soup, Scene 3 © Gilly Farrelly, 1991

In short comic scenes, LUNATIC SOUP explored notions of ‘who is controlling what’ by exposing the relationship between the puppet and the manipulator.

Puppeteers in their own right operate the puppets which include the man behind the rackets “Mr Millions” and assorted cans and packets magnified many times by the simultaneous techniques of blackout and electronic lighting.

Peg Morgan, The Melbourne Leader, 24 September, 1991

Handspan Theatre Lunatic Soup bottles and cans  of tempting drugs against a black background

Designer: Michele Spooner. Puppeteers: Fr L: Michele Spooner, Michael Blair, Andrew Hansen
Photograph: © Martin Kantor,1991

Handspan Theatre Lunatic Soup puppet man offering cigarettes

Mr Millyun at work
Photograph: © Martin Kantor,1991

Handspan Theatre Lunatic Soup man and woman puppet in a cardboard model house

Michael and Carol at home
Photograph: © Martin Kantor,1991
Click photos to enlarge

A teacher’s guide for discussion after the show, including puppetry notes accompanied school performances.

Schools sent feedback from the production’s 1991 tour1 :

The students were very positive … a difficult topic handled very well …

St Bede’s College, Melbourne, 1991

Some brilliant concepts … the puppetry shone out

Monbulk Secondary College, 1991

Peg Morgan, a lone press reviewer of the work found it:

A slick modern presentation … essentially hard-hitting.

The Melbourne Leader, 24 September, 1991

After its successful 1991 tour, LUNATIC SOUP was remounted with a new cast, directed by Christine Anketell, for a further schools touring season in 1992.

LUNATIC SOUP was the last theatre-in-education piece to be created by Handspan for ensemble touring. By the final decade of the 20th century Handspan artists were no longer passionate proponents of theatre for young people and were no longer drawn from education-based drama training. Company membership had evolved to include professionally trained performers from the now-established courses at the Victorian College of the Arts and Swinburne University, and from contemporary puppet companies in the Australian industry. All were eager to engage with visual theatre in more public arenas than offered by school touring and thus, what had been a key arm of Handspan's artistic direction and its viability for its first two decades, was no longer a programming priority.

However, LUNATIC SOUP and its predecessor We Repeat Ourselves were the inspiration for Co-productions in subsequent years, also written by Gilly Farrelly and created by Handspan in partnership with the Koori Health Centre in Fitzroy - The Kangaroo Tale (1995) and Slow Down Cuz (1997).


1 From Handspan Theatre Lunatic Soup promotional flyer 1992

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Creative team
Writer Gilly Farrelly (McInnes)
Director Avril McQueen (1991) Christine Anketell (1992)
Designer Michele Spooner
Composer Lorraine Milne
Costume Designer Jan Knowles
1991 Michael Blair
Andrew Hansen
Michele Spooner
1992 Paolo Bongiovani
Paul Doogood
Sian Pryce
Production team
Set Realisation Jenny Sherlock, Ken Evans
Puppet makers Mary Sutherland, Philip Millar, Michele Spooner, Meegan Hughes, Joanna Pullen
Scenic painting Jenny Sherlock, Fiona Buchanan
Technical assistant Paul Judd
Production assistant Susan Bamford
Teachers Notes Christine Forsey.
31 July – 25 October 1991 Melbourne Metropolitan Secondary schools (77 performances)
6 July – 11 September 1992 Melbourne Metropolitan Secondary schools (45 performances)
Total performances 122
Total audience 18,812

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For Young People: