Have you ever looked at your household furniture and imagined that it comes to life when the lights go out, a la Toy Story? If you have, then watch your imagination act its way out of your mind and onto a stage in Hard Rubbish. If you haven’t, then come along and learn how easy it is to develop feelings for armchairs, wardrobes and rocking horses.

Directed by Ian Pidd and presented by Malthouse Theatre, Hard Rubbish was conceived by the marvelous team at Men of Steel. It tells multiple stories of the ‘lives’ of inanimate objects. There is a motley crew of pirate toilet brushes, who steer their toilet pirate ships in and out of seas and islands full of buried treasure and scandalous landlubbers. A charming romance blossoms between a rocking horse and a chest of drawers; an elderly couple in the form of reclining armchairs share their last moments together; and a sleek, white, very modern set of drawers enters stage right to take over the show and put a stop to the nostalgia once and for all. But our favourite pieces of furniture won’t be giving up without a fight…

Truly a show for all ages, Hard Rubbish had five-year-olds and theatre A-listers laughing and fretting in equal measure. Until you watch the overall-clad puppeteers create personalities and emotions within inanimate objects, you’ll never believe how much you can feel towards a chest of drawers. From the opening scenes of lampshade jellyfish blobbing about underwater to the climactic battle between good and evil – or the old furniture and the new – the audience was engrossed: roaring with laughter, collectively holding their breaths, clapping, gasping, never without a grin. 

The wonderful puppeteers (Hamish Fletcher, Phillip McInnes, Tamara Rewse, and Malia Walsh) do a fantastic job of imbuing each object with its own personality, movements and voice. From the grumpy old woman of an armchair to the feisty golf-clubs and hair-straightener dog, each object has an individual character and story within the show. It is the intelligent and skilled depiction of these characters onstage, and the beautifully crafted stories and structure, that make this show work.

Sound & Technical designer Jared Lewis (also a co-creator) ought to be congratulated for his fabulous lighting and sound. As the show progressed through time and space, he masterfully created believable environments in which the puppeteers (and their characters) could play, adding an extra layer of magic to the show. The only disappointment of the evening was to see some crew members preparing and putting away props and objects side-stage. A simple curtain would fix this problem, and if it was supposed to add another element to the performance it did not seem deliberate enough to work. Stage Managers Tia Clark and Travis Cook (Technical Stage Manager) should, however, be praised for their seamless execution of a technically challenging show. Also spare a thought for them when you leave the theatre, as they are presumably the ones who clean up the carnage of The Great Furniture Battle every night. 

It is rare to experience a production that genuinely delights adults and children all at once. It’s charming and original and one of the most fun nights in the theatre you’ll ever have. But be warned: you’ll never look at your furniture the same way again.