Preview: Oha! Japan, Unicorn Theatre, London

Strings aren't what they used to be
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The Independent Culture

Constantly changing 3-D paper creations of flowers, animals, insects, trees and birds form the backdrop to a story about a child discovering the paper world into which she is born, enduring heavy paper rain storms and being saved from drowning by paper turtles.

Part of a Japanese mini-season at the Unicorn Theatre, Hello Maru-Chan is the creation of the Australian puppeteer Peter Wilson, who has teamed up with Kazenoko Theatre, one of Japan's oldest children's theatre companies.

Wilson fell into puppetry 33 years ago when he saw an advert for a puppeteer at his job centre in Perth. "I began my training with Punch and Judy shows in shopping centres. I felt there must be more to the art form than this."

In 1977, he co-founded the puppet theatre company Handspan Theatre in Melbourne and then became artistic director of the Skylark Puppet and Mask Theatre in 1993. He also directed the puppetry for the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, and, in 2004, developed Australia's first postgraduate diploma and masters programme in puppetry for the Victorian College of Arts. He has just directed Zodiac for the China Children's Art Theatre, which opened last month in Beijing.

"There is no traditional form of puppetry in Australia. We have drawn upon the rest of the world for inspiration and have now turned puppetry tradition on its head," says Wilson. He visited Japan in 1979 and fell in love with bunraku, a traditional Japanese puppetry form where the puppeteers are in full view on the stage. "When I returned to Japan in 2002 to create and direct Hello Maru-Chan with Kazenoko, I wanted to use only a visual language. This was new territory for them because they are used to text-based productions."

Also included in the season is The Twin Stars, based on the life of the Japanese children's writer Kenji Miyazawa.

'Hello Maru-Chan' ends 30 March; 'The Twin Stars' runs 14 March to 6 April (020-7645 0560;