Duck, Death and the Tulip

By Wolf Erlbruch, Adapted by Peter Wilson

Kind permission of Gecko Press

Directed by Nina Nawalowalo and Music composed by Gareth Farr

Duck, Death and the Tulip is a strangely heartwarming story. A duck strikes up an unlikely friendship with Death. Simple, unusual, warm and witty. The superb use of masks, puppets and objects, allows the play to deal with a difficult subject in a way that is elegant, straightforward and thought provoking.


Behind the Scenes Video


Duck, Death and the Tulip is

now my favourite book of all time

Kim Hill, Radio New Zealand National


Review by John Smythe

Death is something all children ask about eventually, either as an abstract idea, or because a grandparent or pet has died. Maybe it comes from questioning where their food comes from – or whether dead flowers go “to heaven” too? Even if they are spared something unexpected and tragic happening close to their lives, it may come up through listening to or watching the news.

Duck, Death and the Tulip, the picture book by German illustrator and writer Wolf Erlbruch, has been embraced the world over by parents and teachers seeking a reference tool that enables the ‘death’ conversation. It’s about nature taking its course and subscribes to no religion, apart from scoffing gently at the stories Duck has heard about hell.

Now Peter Wilson has adapted it for Little Dog Barking: the company he established in 2010 to produce work specifically aimed at Early Childhood and Lower Primary School aged groups. Directed by Nina Nawalowalo with sublime music from Gareth Farr and performed by Wilson and Shona McNeil, using puppets exquisitely crafted to replicate the book illustrations, it is the simplest of stories on the surface.

The Duck goes about its day, discovering and eating a Snail (of which no more is heard), having a snooze, discovering a Tulip whose aroma is ecstasy-inducing … But it is a rather endearing, skull-headed little man – Death – who picks it.

Once aware of the suitcase-toting Death – now full-sized (Wilson) and with a kind face in place of the skull – Duck discovers he is like her “shadow”, always there, not as a threat but as a possibility, ready to respond if anything untoward happens.

Death presides over a cup of tea – with real cups and saucers but mimed tea and tea spoons – but resists Duck’s suggestion they visit the pond, from which a lively Goldfish leaps. Talked into it, he comes out freezing and the kindly Duck offers to warm him up (a quiet little “Death warmed up” joke there).

They sleep as a Butterfly flits above, they ascend a tree to view the Mighty River (no share float gags here, though), the seasons change, snow falls, the river flows (shimmering silk drawn from the ‘pond’), the Duck dies (in its sleep) and is laid to rest with the Tulip, floating …

The puppetry is impeccable, with Wilson and McNeil sharing so deftly you would swear there was twice the number of puppeteers. The flow of the story is gentle and intriguing, and the New Entrant audience that filled Downstage the day I saw it was utterly entranced.

Beautifully done in every respect, it is highly recommended for 4 to 8 year olds (public performance Saturday 23 March, 10am).

For anyone who sees it, the common sayings “death warmed up” and “a dead duck” will forever have a special resonance.


Article from The Guardian

World’s biggest prize for children’s books goes to ‘caring visionary’

Astrid Lindgren memorial award, worth £445,000, won by Wolf Erlbruch, a German illustrator whose books tackle tough subjects including death. German illustrator Wolf Erlbruch has won the world’s largest cash prize for children’s literature, the Astrid Lindgren memorial award, honouring an entire body of work by an author or institution. Erlbruch, who has been nominated for the award several times, is a much-venerated figure in children’s literature in Germany; his books often tackle difficult and dark themes in childhood. He was one of 226 candidates from 60 countries for the 5m Swedish kronor (£445,000) honour, which goes to work “of the highest artistic quality” featuring the “humanistic values” of the late Pippi Longstocking author. The jury called him “a careful and caring visionary” who “makes existential questions accessible and manageable for readers of all ages”.

Read full article here.

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