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Culinary Chaos Meets Puppetry Magic: A Spectacular Theatre Festival Delights Chennai’s Young Audience

A kitchen full of silly superheroes, equipped with pots, pans, and whisks, sounds like an open invitation to chaos and laughter. In this whimsical setting, there are no limitations — one minute you could be underwater, the next you’re in the underworld, racing against time to find otherworldly ingredients. This inventive concoction is coming to life at the newly renovated Museum Theatre, where funny-looking fish, occasional dragons, and chefs with bright red clown noses float in the distance as preparations ensue for the 13th edition of The Little Festival, an international theatre festival for children.

The festival’s line-up this year includes “The Kooks,” a homegrown production featuring zany chefs, as well as a Korean puppet masterpiece titled “A Tree and A Boy.” Both productions are non-verbal, designed to captivate the minds of young audiences and stretch their imaginative boundaries, a recurring theme of The Little Theatre. According to Krishnakumar Balasubramanian (KK), artistic director and creator of “The Kooks,” overcoming the perceived language barrier in theatre is easily accomplished through the universal language of human physicality, an approach particularly effective for children.

“I have always been inspired by physical comedy. We wanted to set this play in an unusual setting, and we thought food, which brings people together, would be perfect,” says KK. The result is a delightful marriage of a kitchen setting with physical humor.

Directed by Santhosh Kumar, “The Kooks” combines clowning and slapstick humor to present a dynamic and improvisational performance. “The script is only two pages long, but the show runs for 1 hour and 15 minutes! Every moment matters and each performance is unique,” Santhosh explains. The minimal script and strong character definitions allow for the actors to inject their personalities into the roles, continuously solving and creating problems, much like what happens in a real kitchen.

“Every recipe requires certain ingredients to succeed, and similarly, these characters realize they must come together for the magic to happen,” says Santhosh. KK adds, “In an era where children’s imagination is often stifled by a rigid education system and dependence on gadgets, we aim to remind them of the boundless potential that lies within their imagination. That’s what the kitchen setting symbolizes.”

Supporting this focus on imagination is South Korea’s theBEFU theatre’s production of “A Tree and A Boy.

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.” Conceptualized in 1992, this puppet show is a journey through imagery and sound, and a masterclass in traditional Korean puppetry. The narrative juxtaposes the lives of a boy and a tree through various seasons, from spring to winter and back to spring.

Director Lee remarks, “The show tells a story about life that everyone can relate to. The cycle of birth, growth, love, failure, and death is both natural and beautiful — it encapsulates the magic of existence.” Besides the wooden puppets operated by actors, shadow puppets also play a role, especially during the protagonist’s tragic moments, showcasing a blend of techniques that add depth to the performance.

Lee highlights a particular scene where neighborhood children join the boy in a game. “Although seemingly simple, it offers a cultural lesson for Indian audiences,” she notes, hinting at more surprises for Chennai’s children, including musical components.

Children are undeniably the focus of both experiences, and they are known for being a discerning audience. KK concludes, “Sometimes kids ask for certain characters to stay on stage longer. They want to establish a deeper connection with them. This time around, we’ve made sure that happens.”

“The Kooks” will be performed on July 5th, 6th, and 8th at 11 am, and July 7th at 4 pm. “A Tree and A Boy” will be staged on July 9th and 10th at 11 am. Passes for these shows are priced at ₹400 each and are available at explara.com.

The Hindu MetroPlus brings to you the highlights of these artistic celebrations, where imagination knows no bounds and young minds are invited to a world of endless possibilities.