What do a boot, a seed, soup and mud all have in common?
Well it beats me. But they were all part of the adventure we experienced at the WA Shipwrecks Museum. The old museum is an adventure in itself with its rabbit warren of rooms, moody lighting and hulking boat carcass. Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s latest show Tom Vickers and the Extraordinary Adventure of his Missing Sock was installed in and around the building and on Tuesday I took my 5 and 7 year old to navigate the adventure. We were kitted out with aprons and passports and were instructed to collect cards, get our passports stamped and participate in the sensory stations along the way.
So far so good, but I got a little thrown by the war theme introduced at the beginning – was it to do with ANZAC day next week? This was a boats museum but the show opened with an old man recounting his experience of the Christmas armistice on a short 3D video. My five year old recognised Silent Night but I had to do a quick briefing (the first of many!) about the glimpse of humanity that occurred on Christmas Eve amid the horror of 1914.
We started following a piece of string that came from a woolly sock. It led us to a gangrenous foot exhibit (!) via a lady knitting war codes into scarves and to an enormous pile of socks. Then we followed bootlaces past a skeleton (the remains of someone from the Batavia, a permanent exhibit at the museum) to the Red Cross tent where we helped chop veggies for soup. There was also the post office to write a letter, desks of soldiers stories and belongings and jars of sand that held the stories and sounds of war if you put your ear to the lid.
To say creators Philip Mitchell and Zoe Atkinson had made a hands-on experience doesn’t quite do it justice – there was even a muddy trench to traipse through (with plastic socks over our shoes). Designer Tyler Hill had outdone herself with sensory experiences for the adventurers, and volunteers assisted at every turn. I was glad of the nourishment from the trench soup we were given in our tin mugs as it was by now two hours into our adventure and the end wasn’t in sight!
The show had attracted huge numbers of participants and there was a queue to every station. There were also a lot of stations and as the adventure became more protracted the morning became less about exploring and more about managing kids (and their parents!) to wait patiently in cramped corners as masses of people were churned through each station.
Many of the displays were at adult height, making me think the whole experience was designed for upper primary and high school aged kids rather than 5+ as indicated on the publicity. My children simply didn’t have the assumed knowledge required to appreciate the rich thought that was obviously behind the production. There was no explanation about the Red Cross and their role, we never found out who Tom Vickers was and in fact I’m not even sure if his sock was missing!
The execution and the pitch of the show just didn’t match the detailed thinking behind it. It’s a shame because it was clear much effort was involved. Perhaps if I could go back with my older nephew and have the trail to ourselves then it might be a different experience.
Tom Vickers and the Extraordinary Adventure of his Missing Sock runs until April 29.