[ABOVE] Opera North & Leeds
Met Studio Theatre - Resonance/ Faulty Optic at BAC Opera 2004
Met Studio Theatre and Opera North
BAC OperaFest, Virtually Opera: May 2004
Reviewed by Beccy Smith
part of BAC’s Operafest, Faulty Optic presented a new short
within the triple bill, Resonance, new music and performance commissioned
by Opera North and Leeds’ Studio Theatre.
In Faulty Optic’s Licked, their trademark cronky puppetry,
as superbly handled as we’ve come to expect, brought to
life a nocturnal fantasy world where imagined monsters are all
too real in a Victorian moral fable mining the same rich vein
as Improbable’s Shockheaded Peter.
Video sequences expertly set the scene: an eery desolate woodland
where endearing tribes of pegs are snared by a sinister hunchbacked
figure with an overactive tongue and a taste for gingerbread babies.
The score, grounded in tremulous xylophone and vibraphone, was
broodingly atmospheric against the histrionic tones of Dominic
Sale’s livelily rendered fairy tale songs (beautifully archly
performed by Katharine Price) as our villain moves inexorably
to larger prey.
The ingeniously customised ‘booth’ allowing for ‘split
screen’ staging of a table-top household – two young,
disobedient boys, their frustrated mother and her cat, in the
heart of a forbidding forest – remained offcentre to the
open space of the dark forest and its monstrous inhabitants. Here,
the crosses into full scale bunraku-style figures and stop-start
animation sequences played expertly with scale; the children remaining
tabletop sized, the hungry witch always human height and the projected
world exactly paralleling that staged, creating a fantastic extension
to the live physical world. A comic, endearing, sinister and perfectly
formed bite of puppet / animated / music / visual theatre.
- A Recipe for Nordic Meat
Festival Of Czech Professional Puppet Theatre, Plzen Czech Republic
Reviewed by Edward Taylor
Puppetry is still active in the Czech Republic
and varies from re-telling traditional folk stories to the avant-garde.
This festival takes place in the Divadlo Alfa - a council-run
puppet theatre with workshops, an in-house production team and
at least three spaces for theatre shows. The audience isn't large
but is impressively broad in its make-up.
TEArTR RADJO presented their show in the studio theatre - a familiar
black box. It took as its theme the Norse myths - a time when
human kind was more connected to the natural worlds, cosmic forces
were at play and the elements had a particular significance. Bones,
symbolic objects, masks, leather and puppets (both shadow and
3-D) were the materials used to create their theatre. Usually
this sort of faux-primitivism really rubs up against my prejudices
but the young company from Prague presented the show with such
vigour and over-abundance of ideas that I was consistently intrigued
and surprised. Without being slick the two performers showed their
talents in many different disciplines - singing, movement, puppetry
amongst others - and had energy in spades. As you entered the
space, they were behind a linen cloth creating a rhythm to help
stoke up the atmosphere. The lighting was all low-level, often
just using fire. The simple wooden set/structure was used in different
ways to create new spaces and theatrical possibilities - the sophistication
with which they did this contrasted with the mythic primitive
world they set out to explore.
Some bits worked - for instance a hunting scene between an archer
and elk puppets on a table with a tree branch growing out of it.
The table is tipped up towards you so you see the scene from above
with the two warily stalking each other. And some bits didn't
- a shadow play of fishes swimming around which is just too over-familiar
- but they had so many ideas that another one quickly came along.
Sometimes three came along at the same time!
The Little Angel Theatre
Reviewed by Beccy Smith
An Indonesian shadow-horse swallowing the
stars; a drunken old man sleeping on a turd; Jesus stretching
his joints in a brief reprieve on the Cross. These are just a
few of the colourful and bizarre images which animated this evening
showcase of work from the London School of Puppetry. Ten interludes
offered us tasters of a dazzling range of puppetry styles and
tones of work, bound together in a revue format by the improvised
shadow-segues of bulbous wire ballerinas performing in a psychedelic
big top above the stage.
The Little Angel’s stage was a blank canvas for the variety
of work on offer here and the whole had a warm ensemble feel,
with puppeteers sweeping the stage after their performance as
ballerinas bounced overhead, characters crossing between pieces
and the showcase framed by star-turn performances from School
leader Caroline Astell-Burt and Ronnie LeDrew. The loose format,
however, didn’t belie the value of the work shown, as the
evening showcased inventive new work and some excellent manipulation
as well as some serious twists of imagination.
The revue opened with Star Horse, a consummate re-presentation
of Indonesian shadow-storytelling portraying the quest of a mystical
horse to capture the stars and his mistrustful union with a journeying
warrior who, together, can take to the skies. This was the first
of three excellent performances by Yuki Muramatsu whose ingenuity
was further demonstrated in a simple, comic rendering of The Gingerbread
Man using paper theatre, with its dual, rotating images to great
comic and narrative effect as the dancing, cocksure gingerbread
boy is foiled by his own over-confidence, and later in a piece
of apron theatre whose inventive originality of design evoked
gasps of pleasure from the audience. The pillowcase sheep were
a particular favourite.
Elsewhere, in performances from Jo Munton and Suzy Kemp of Vagabondi
Puppets, it was great to see new marionette work being tried out.
Bill, the old drunk fighting gravity on his trip from pub to pavement
was a well rendered comic study in weight and movement. In Brenda,
the character of a retiring puppet at her own birthday party was
delicately drawn with the cartoon-like lumpen aesthetic of the
bathroom in which she locks herself beautifully creating her world
Danish puppeteer Ida Marie Tvalve demonstrated an absurd grasp
of the form with a truculent and aging marionette goading an attentive
waiter into cutting her strings once and for all and a Monty Python-esque
series of vignettes on Calvary with some lovely narrative twists
including a miniature, megalomaniac priest concealed within a
Suzy Kemp’s Kingdom of Gerald was the least classifiable
performance of the evening with a bizarre and endearing world
of miniature pink plastic beasties, their babies and pets who
rattlingly colonise the skeletal belly of an enormous glittering,
colourful fish to a sound track of Nina Simone.
In addition to the improvised shadows whose leaps and pirouettes
glued the diverse performances and stagings together, we were
also steered by showings from the experts, reminding us we were
in safe hands. Thus Ronnie LeDrew’s camp Beaver-compere
ushered us off for the interval in comic style, whilst the evening
was rounded off by the melodramatic tale of jealousy and revenge
by a thieving wife on unfaithful husband and the coquettish Barbie-maid.
The macabre and grotesque tone of this final showing was a satisfying
end to the evening and a had a lovely take on scaling (the tiny,
powerless maid dwarfed by her master’s sweeping tongue,
but both puppets overshadowed by the figure of the cunning wife,
Caroline Astell-Burt herself, and her eagle-eyed magpie, engineering
their comeuppance) and a tour-de-force of the varied possibilities
of the one handed (or technically two!) performance.
A minor gripe was that there were moments when we were aware of
the student context of the production, where strictly professional
standards lapsed, but this is perhaps immaterial when the format
for the evening was to expose new work resulting from ongoing
training on the unique course offered by LSP. I would also query
marketing the work as adult-oriented: many of the pieces were
far more suited to a younger audience. However, this was an imaginative
and thought-provoking evening’s work, where we were given
glimpses of worlds that with luck we should have chance to explore
more fully as these artists develop the ideas that have grown
on their course. The Little Angel continues to expand its programme
and broaden its remit under the Tiplady helm: the range of this
showcase was an intriguing example of the various, and vigorous,
possibilities offered by new contemporary puppetry.