With the Spare Part Puppet Theatre’s production of Hachiko playing over the Easter school holidays, we thought we would catch up with one of the puppeteers, Jessica Harlond-Kenny. We chat about her career, the magic of puppets and an extraordinary tale of one dog’s loyalty.

Having studied performing arts at ECU, Jessica became involved with Spare Parts as part of their First Hand project. Her love of puppets was fostered by both her training and her family. “My mum and sister were both artists, and puppeteers (especially Spare Parts) will create their work from a visual landscape. And I think that’s why it’s so entertaining for children, because it’s not just talking heads. It’s this beautiful landscape on stage, and when you appreciate art (or come from art) you have a strong connection to puppetry.”

As for what makes puppets special? “I don’t think there will be any person in the world would answer no  when you ask, ‘have you pretended something was what it wasn’t was?’ Nobody hasn’t. Even as a kid you’ll pick up a cardboard box and turn it into a truck, a phone or whatever. As soon as an actor is on stage there is an ego that can get in the way. And people will sit there and say ‘she doesn’t mean that’ or something. But as soon as there’s this messenger, you don’t shoot the messenger. You’re able to connect with this puppet as there is this innocence about it. You don’t put any ego on it, so you just allow it. So I think that’s why puppetry is so beautiful.”

The tale of Hachiko follows a strong tradition of stories of loyal dogs. “Well dogs have been around for thousands of years. And there are lots of tales about their loyalty. Hachiko is another from Japan about a dog and a professor that become beautiful friends in just two years. And after two years the professor dies and Hachiko, his loyalty never wavering, would go to the train station every single day to wait for the professor. For 10 years he waited for him until some people say he died of a broken heart.

“So it’s another beautiful story of loyalty. I think these are important stories for kids, as kids are smart. These things happen to kids as well. Kids loose parents and friends and family and dogs as well. At some point everyone experiences loss. And I think this work really helps to remember how something really touched your life even though it is gone. They need to look at it so they can heal.”

Told through a mix of hand puppetry, 2D puppets and object play, Hachiko presents a heart warming tale of friendship, loss and loyalty. Entertaining and a good discussion point for children on dealing with loss, all done in a tender and non-confrontational manner. “It’s an important subject, and one that needs to be focussed on gently with love.”