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Unpacked
No Obvious Trauma
Camden People’s Theatre, London
Sprint Festival
May 2006.

Reviewed by Beccy Smith

There’s a well documented history of the useful role puppetry can perform within a therapeutic context, but Unpacked’s new show No Obvious Trauma turns this familiar framework on its head, translating the theory back into theatre, puppets and all. Unravelling the secrets of a mute trauma patient – a psychological twist on the old Dumb Witness formula set against a period background of clipped accent, oh-so-repressed 1930s England – establishes a rich conflict. The theme of hysteria provides the carnivalesque motor to the drama and the performance: a chance for a psychiatrist to re-experience the passion of days gone by and for the elegantly organised bodies on stage to twist into fantastic shapes and assume weird tensions.

To a cultivated background of Satie and Chopin, the tension of bodies in space, tightly choreographed in the small studio, eloquently expresses the sense of mystery unfolding, and of the unsettling presence of trauma(s) within this carefully ordered world. This is a sophisticated narrative with two complex characters who peer soulfully out to the audience, although Gilbert Taylor’s Psychiatrist could have done with a little further development to take him beyond comedic counterfoil and audience-eye-view. But this is an unusually satisfying marriage of the abstract form and specific storytelling which signals a growing maturity in Unpacked’s work.

The puppetry, especially the use of grotesque shadow, is well integrated aesthetically and dramatically, with its innate resonances of the object/ patient relationship. And it’s a joy to watch the controlled animation of the set as a whole, from locomotive desks to Hitchcockian enclosing screen walls.

Seen on its first night, there’s still development to be made. The hints of a feminist comment on the diagnosis of hysteria, beautifully expressed in a lyrical passage where the female voice is literally and firmly silenced remain latent, largely down to a lack of clarity about a back-story featuring single motherhood and female destitution which impedes our reading of the skewed vision the Doctor holds of his female patient. There are moments when the emotional seriousness of the tone teeters perilously on the edge of farce. But there’s much to look forward to later in the run. With this stylish physical storytelling of a ripping, atmospheric and original yarn, Unpacked continue to establish themselves at the forefront of contemporary physical theatre practice, and to take puppetry boldly with them.


Barefeet Theatre
The Revenge Of The Moon Boy
Camden People’s Theatre, London
Sprint Festival
May 2006
Reviewed by John Ellingsworth



In a play about revenge and murder, it was the revenging murders that had the greatest impact. They remain in my memory as the standout scenes. First, the plot: there is a village where the crops are rotten and no fish are in the sea. It used to be prosperous. People in the village whisper that perhaps the degeneration is the fault of the Moon Boy, who was abandoned in the forest as a baby, yet did not die, and grew up, and is bent upon revenge. After years away, the daughter of the village’s former governor and governess comes back to the village to learn more of her parents’ deaths (mysterious), and it gradually emerges that certain villagers have been killing people and burying them in barren soil at the behest of an evil priest. The girl is repeatedly threatened, but the Moon Boy appears and kills and saves her. In all he kills four people, and the first three deaths are acted out by puppets.

Each time, we learn that the character has died offstage. After we know his life has ended, the village grocer, Thenaki, walks to the front of the stage and starts to narrate the circumstances of his own death. At this point, the Moon Boy comes on stage from one side; from the other, two female performers carrying a puppet of the grocer between them, maybe a quarter actual-size. The Moon Boy actor goes through a sequence of subtle, characterful gestures – hunching, wiping his brow, tipping his hat to the puppet, and so on – and the two actresses manipulate the puppet so that it mirrors him. It feels as though something is transferred from actor to object. The actor exits, and as he narrates from offstage how the Moon Boy threw him headfirst down a hole and buried him alive, the puppet is turned violently upside down, and its legs are made to kick for a while before going still. A poisoning and a hanging are acted out in the same way, the hanging particularly visceral as one of the puppet’s hands reaches and pulls several times at the noose, repeatedly catching and losing the rope.

Revenge of the Moon Boy played upon the tension arising from what a community can and cannot say, and, in this scenario, acting out what would otherwise be impossible to show, the three puppet scenes were the alleviation of secrecy and suppression. I’m not sure the other aspects of the play worked so well, but these three scenes are what I’ll remember, dark purviews of violence and death.


Laura Griffin
The Flickering Truths of a Cruel and Dirty Bitch
Camden People’s Theatre, London
Sprint Festival
May 2006

Reviewed by Beccy Smith


The unwieldy title provoked a resistant response in me, and anyone else I mentioned this show to, but any concerns about pretension were quickly dispelled by this disconcertingly honest, original and excellently performed show. A one-hander written and performed by Laura Griffin, the ‘monologue’ (although it was much more than that) charts in poetic form the course of her obsessive love for an unsuspecting writer hero. The story is delivered somewhere between the verbal acrobatics and aural experimentation of spoken word poetry, and dramatic cris de coeurs, wryly undermined by irresistibly cheeky confidences in the audience. The fluctuations from genuinely sympathetic emotional disclosure to histrionics and socially alarming behaviour are subtly and dextrously enacted, pulling us inexorably with Laura into the heart of her obsession and depositing us, winded, on the other-self-righteous-side.

Griffin’s performance is phenomenal, completely engaged and engaging, holding us with her on every step of this discomfiting territory. The world she has invented, dominated by a surreally sexual armchair/ letterbox which actually overshadows the suspended suit jacket of the male object hung, muted, in one corner of the staging aptly frames the imaginative distortions of her tale. The puppetry is slightly rough around the edges: a metaphorical cat transgresses the male/ female divide, both sexual and mundane (there’s a lovely reveal in its belly) and basic animation of the man’s clothes is dramaturgically satisfying in its conjuring of his overwhelming absence/ presence. But it’s transformed by the energy of the central performance which vertiginously clings together all of the diverse elements and wonderful moments of this piece. The subject matter is a challenging one but the ingenuity and honesty of the writing harbours real, refreshing insight on the thorny matters of unrequited love; obsession; sexual power and politics with which you can’t fail to engage. Raw passion, obvious talent and an eye for theatrical eloquence: Griffin is one to watch.

Vélo Theatre
There’s a Rabbit in the Moon
Old Market Arts Centre, Hove
Brighton Festival
May 2006
Reviewed by Penny Francis

A long-established company founded in the south of France by Charlot Lemoine and Tania Castaing... Some years ago I admired them for their delicacy, poetry and wit, and the sensitive clowning of Charlot, the principal performer in all their shows. Some will remember Envelopes et Deballages (Packing and Unpacking) in which a postman finds all the packages on his delivery bicycle (there’s always a cycle, a vélo, of some kind) breaking open to fill the stage with a landscape; and Appel d’Air (Call of the Wind – both inadequate translations), a beautiful example of a theatre of objects.

The company has not lost its touch: Y’a un Lapin dans la Lune (There’s a Rabbit in the Moon) is a delight for children and parents alike (No adult without a child, the programme says severely). It’s full of tension, relaxed and inconsequential, solemn and funny. Silence features loudly. The children were fascinated and still as mice.

They saw a slightly mad gentleman called Tomás Snout who seemed to embody the night. All in black, with an old dusty top hat, he steps out of a wardrobe into a high black circular space. He produces from his pockets, and from a ‘soft round white night’, a padded half moon strapped on a trike, a number of objects with their attendant sounds –a watch, a key, a tiny dancer, a Mercedes Benz, stars, a fish, a trombone, black bits of paper which represent fears which he will dispel. His angular, precise movements and melancholy, anxious face are perfectly controlled, until he responds to a child and smiles, his warmth brightening his eyes.

‘People whisper at night to be sure the stars won’t hear them’ he says. It’s a very quiet show, and is not afraid to use silence and subtleties of sound to great theatrical effect. There are few words. ‘Sometimes night can be a real nightmare!’ he says when a tiny house gets invaded by a dog, a saw, a bigger fish. Halfway through he tells the story of the Tin Soldier, and the fish which has eaten him turns into a skeleton of itself. It has to be buried; a coffin is prepared and the children are asked to put in one of the black pieces of paper as one of their fears, to be buried forever (their fears were quite heavy – fear of losing a relative, fear of drowning). The coffin is a battered instrument case and when closed the propeller on the front revolves to drive it away.

We all leave when the Rabbit has been found in the Moon-Drum. Its ears point the way out through the wardrobe and we exit and hand back our pyjamas. Maybe the children will never again be afraid of the dark, thinking of Mr. Snout and all his Things. Or maybe they’ll think of the fish skeleton and the buried fears, and shiver a little.

Armonico Consort/ Orchestra of the Baroque
The Fairy Queen
Theatre Royal, Brighton
Brighton Festival
May 2006


This year’s Brighton Festival featured a number of large-scale ‘total theatre’ ensemble productions which used a wide variety of artforms – some more successfully than others!
The Fairy Queen was one of the successes – a beautiful piece of music theatre, staging of Purcell’s ‘semi-opera’ of seven mini-plays or masques inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is a piece which has been traditionally viewed as difficult to stage – although this is in part due to our cultural obsession with linear narrative: if one views it as being more like a book of poems and sketches rather than a novel, it is less of a problem, although it must be admitted that the complex stage directions such as ‘in the distance swans are seen swimming under the bridge of the left-hand river’ could be a bit of a challenge!

Luckily, Armonico Consort’s Thomas Guthrie is far from being a conventional director and he does not attempt any sort of literal staging, but rather takes the admirable decision to provide a theatrical framework and over-arching logic to the piece by placing the action in what would have once been called a lunatic asylum. This decision is inspired by an interest in the life and work of painter Richard Dadds, one of the Victorian fairy painters known for his Shakespearean fantasies who was committed to Bedlam for killing his father. The stage is simultaneously populated by the ‘real world’ inhabitants – doctors, nurses, patients – and the spirit world of fairies, phantasms and imaginative creatures from Shakespeare’s play and from Dadd’s paintings. The questions it begs are: Who is madder, doctor or patient? Who is dreaming whom? How do we tell reality from fantasy? Where do material world and spirit world begin and end?

The piece is beautifully realised: an enormous silvery moon at the rear of the stage provides a unifying scenographic motif to the scenes that unfold, upright frames morph into hospital beds, patients sing, nurses dance, doctors leap into the audience to clown in the aisles. And all the while, the fairy world weaves in, out and around the action…

There is a twenty-strong ensemble on stage: the baroque orchestra, the consort who manage to combine wonderful singing with robust physical performance, two dancers, and two aerial circus artists. The baroque music is played on original instruments, a gloriously delicate sound so different to most classical orchestration.

There is puppetry (although no puppeteers) and the weakest link in this otherwise marvellous show is – yes, you’ve guessed! – the puppetry. Two attractive enough hand-held figures used towards the end of the piece lack animation, the manipulation being extremely basic, and a larger puppet that rises up to oversee the action seems to be nothing more than the materials it is made of, and is similarly devoid of life. The aerial sections in Fairy Queen are performed by aerialists, and although all the Consort singer-performers are expected to use physical skills the physical performance element is enhanced by the inclusion of two trained dancers – so why not employ puppeteers to ensure that this element of the production is of equally high quality? This is not the first time you will have heard this plea in Animations and it won’t be the last! Guthrie is obviously interested in the possibilities of puppetry within music theatre and opera: we learn from his biog in the programme that he has previously created a staged puppet version of Winterreise for New Kent Opera. I’d advise him to follow the excellent example of ENO in their employment of Blind Summit and consider a collaboration with a puppet theatre company for his next large-scale production!

Despite this one weak element (and unfortunate therefore that I was reviewing with an Animations hat on!), The Fairy Queen was a wonderful theatrical experience in which performers and audience are united in a marriage of magical possibilities.


Shofukutei Showko
Show-Ko – Japanese Sit Down Comedy
Marlborough Theatre, Brighton
Brighton Festival Fringe
May 2006


One of the joys of festivals featuring hundreds of theatre shows (and Brighton is second only to Edinburgh in the UK festival league in the number of productions hosted) is the discovery of the little gem, accidentally stumbled upon. This was the one for me at Brighton! A show seen on a whim at a 50-seat theatre on a Saturday afternoon turned out to be one of my top Brighton Festival experiences, a wonderful example of Japanese Rakugo storytelling using object animation, puppetry and ventriloquism. I arrived in ignorance and left amazed, amused, delighted, entertained.

A woman in Kimono arrives on stage and sits on a silk cushion on a bench at the front of the small stage. We learn that the performance style we are going to see is Rakugo, or Japanese sit-down comic storytelling (just as there is stand-up comedy in the western countries, there is sit-down comedy in Japan). Showko Shofukutei (aka Ayako Ono who has, I learn later, previously performed with Norwich Puppet Theatre and Little Angel) has the gift of the experienced storyteller.

She invites us warmly into her world: addressing the audience directly and with confidence she explains that in sit-down, the performer sits on their knees for the whole time when he or she performs. She shows us a bamboo fan (Sensu) and a paper napkin (Tenugui) and tells us that these are the only props allowed. We are all, adults and children alike, captivated by her smiling confidence and eager to see and hear more. She then takes us on a trip around the world, the bamboo fan magically morphing into landmark buildings and natural structures – the Eiffel Tower, the leaning tower of Pisa, Mount Fuji! There follows an audience participation song, which we sing with great gusto. I am sitting alone and quite happily join the four-year-olds in miming rabbit ears whilst shouting ‘Usagi’ at the appropriate places… This first section also includes a version of a rather old shaggy dog story about a woman who takes a job as a surrogate lion. This is the only slight blip in the show, as it seems somehow too grown-up a joke and over the head of many of the children in the audience.

Showko Shofukutei leaves, and guest performer Mr Kakushow (a Raguko master) arrives to tell us a ‘puppet raguko’ story that is a sort of onstage Pokemon battle featuring brightly coloured satin knee/foot puppets – the good guy has a loveable-moppet demeanour, familiar from the Japanese ‘Anime’ cartoon tradition, whilst the baddies boast glowing white grinning teeth and staccato jumps. It is a highly animated performance in every sense of the word – Mr Kakushow just about stays on his knees but with an enormous amount of rolling and twisting, legs akimbo as the puppets attached to them battle it out. It is hilarious, I am practically on the floor I’m laughing so much (the four-year-olds might in other circumstances be staring at me in amazement, but they are so captivated by the onstage action and laughing so hard themselves that I am luckily ignored).

Showko Shofukutei then returns, and with her is a suitcase containing Ken, a ventriloquist dummy. Although everything in this show is wonderful and astonishing, this section is particularly extraordinary in its odd amalgam of Western and Japanese entertainment traditions. Ken behaves in the precocious-child mode familiar to Western audiences, but there are odd Japanese Manga-style moments (such as a demented spinning of the head).

The three sections work excellently together, the audience is well satisfied, and the end of the show is greeted with tumultuous applause. What a way to spend a Saturday afternoon – in the company of a fan that transform into famous monuments, an imaginary rabbit, pokemon-style monsters on the end of a leg and a kimono-clad dummy called Ken who thinks he is in The Exorcist. And of course the two wonderful puppeteer-storytellers – who could ask for more?

Told By An Idiot
The Evocation of Papa Mas
The Corn Exchange, Brighton
Brighton Festival
May 2006

Reviewed by Beccy Smith


As the spirit of carnival, all that is transformative, irreverent, larger-than-life or -death, Papa Mas represents a tall order to evoke, let alone to incarnate within the context of a ‘traditional’ theatre environment.

Told by an Idiot take on this challenge and attack it with gusto: a sunken five-piece African band colonise the heart of the stage; opposing choruses of rule (comic US-style police troopers sporting grotesque fake noses) and misrule (a collection of mischievous black demons complete with sexuality as pronounced as their emphatic comment on the action) reinforce the dynamic oppositions; whilst a community chorus of brightly coloured rubber-gloved birds of all ages variously dance and sing in the background, and giant puppets wade in to complete the scene.

There’s a lot going on to enrich this archetypal tale. The ‘story’, progressed through live music and dance on a processional stage, is of the squire’s horsy daughter, whose latent sensual side inspires her to reject her wealthy suitor for the local poet and black popular hero, both of whom are shot dead by her avenging father (with a little help from the spurned lover) only to rise from the dead to exact their revenge, at last dragging him and the action down to Hell. Festive images abound: a baby bird is born from an egg atop a coffin; a coffin becomes a bath to wash away and unmask the hypocrisy of the murderous patriarch; commedia style masks and large-scale carnival puppets explode onto the stage.

Yet this superabundance, the company throwing everything at the form, seemed somehow to emasculate the carnival’s purity. There was a dilution – perhaps caused by the theatre context itself. There was a conflicting variety of performance modes: masked characters writ large overshadowing human figures; the specificity of context suggested by skyscrapers and sodium lamps in the design conflict with the mythical tone of the content, whilst not being specific enough to give a sense of any actual context, contemporary or otherwise; the blood blossoms as a superbly theatrical device – a red balloon – amongst the increasing presentationalism of the performance. The crude specificity of references to sexuality and race which peppered the dialogue felt uncomfortably incongruous against the archetypal and philosophical frame.

There were arresting images, evocative physicality and some great tunes, but the dancing never quite made it off the stage and into the aisles. If such accomplished hands as Told By an Idiot can’t lift this piece, the performance finally left me wondering if it was asking the right questions of this rich form and content. Perhaps what we should be asking is whether or not carnival can really happen for a contemporary audience for whom shared rules and communities no longer necessarily exist (especially when in the context of a festival themselves) and what role should it, or could it, play?

Victoria Thierrée Chaplin and Aurélia Thierrée

Aurélia’s Oratorio
Lyric, Hammersmith
May 2006

Reviewed by Matthew Isaac Cohen


Aurélia’s Oratorio is both reinvention of the European tradition of stage magic and a contemporary circus spectacle, made for the proscenium stage, that integrates clown/mime, aerial, contortion, manipulation and acrobatic skills. Director and designer Victoria Thierrée Chaplin and principal performer Aurélia Thierrée are the daughter and grand-daughter of Charlie Chaplin and long-time collaborators in their family circus Le Cirque Imaginaire. Puppets and performing objects feature heavily, and through cunning use of lighting, costume and set it is often hard to say where the performer’s body ends and an extension of it begins.

Though nominally inspired by the medieval trope of the World Upside Down, Aurélia’s Oratorio is essentially a non-stop sequence of two to five minute acts, most of them involving some form of magical transformation. There is little use of spoken dialogue, character or plot. Aurélia Thierrée is teamed on stage with Puerto Rican born dancer Jamie Martinez, whose dark sensuality and skills in tango and rumba counterbalance the ethereal beauty of Thierrée. Music by Vivaldi, Philip Glass and the New Age composers favoured by Cirque du Soleil feature heavily.

Many of the most clever and entertaining are among the most simple. Thierrée crosses the stage dragging an empty shopping cart with one hand, with a huge pile of groceries in the other. She drops a carton, gingerly picks it up, and appears to toss it to the top of the pile where it sprouts magically at the very top. One of the most memorable sequences shows Thierrée arranging flowers in a vase upside down so that their stems are up in the air; opens a window and puts her washing out to dry and then waters her washing with a watering can; call out for a ‘taxi’ and then gets into an upside down chair borne on poles by two bearers with shoes on their helmets.

Puppet fans will delight to a wordless tableau enacted behind a white linen screen. Thierrée sits and knits as flat animal creatures enter and exits. A sharp-toothed canine bites her leg off and she hurriedly knits herself another. She lies down to sleep. A giant, articulated at the shoulders and elbows in wayang kulit style, enters and lifts her up and carries her in gently rocking motion through the sky. He puts her down and shoves her away. She tries to rejoin him but is rebuffed. The linen screen begins to fall, slowly at first and then more rapidly, and the giant humanoid melts into it. Would that this scene went on forever!

Also impressive was a tableau on wheels of a booth show enacted before an audience of puppets in which Thierrée’s head within the booth sprouts and bounces around as a disembodied performing object.

The lack of plot or through-line and a deficiency of emotional expression make some moments drag: the aerial acrobatics feel pro forma, the concluding scene in which a train appears to go through a hole in Thierrée’s body is predictable. Thierrée is credited in the programme as ‘actress’ but she is less actor than performer, always gliding on to the next act. She lacks the glee that Chaplin was able to inflect in his play with objects — such as his famous potato fork dance of The Gold Rush. This is perhaps an unfair comparison: this is Aurélia Thierrée’s first major solo vehicle, and she will likely have a rich and accomplished career ahead of her, building on her impressive array of physical skills.

To the director’s credit, the three puppeteers and body doubles, whose faces are barely glimpsed during this 80-minute kaleidoscope, appear for the curtain call.


Ripstop Productions
Little Fish Big Storm
Croydon Clocktower
May 2006


Reviewed by Marcus Reeves

Little Fish Big Storm begins in a magical garden where the show’s performers encourage the young audience members to plant and water magic seeds. It’s a charming beginning that sets the tone for the next half hour as the audience witness, and become part of, a spellbinding story.

As rain sets in (with the audience helping to provide the raindrops) we shelter in a ‘shadow tent’, where the story unfolds of an old man called Manu and a fish he saves from the river. But this little fish is not what he seems and in turn helps Manu save the world from a terrible flood.

Frank Wurzinger is a versatile comic performer tackling roles ranging from the thoughtful Manu to a stomping elephant, whilst Bhavini Raval is an exuberant and playful narrator. They both prove to be highly skilled puppeteers and bring the story to life with infectious gusto.

The show’s design is witty and ingenious, with colourful transparent shadow puppets by Bronia Evers creating a captivating bevy of natural wonders all around the tent and amongst the audience on small moveable screens.

The audience are encouraged to participate throughout in a very natural way, making rivers and waves and help Manu make his boat by chopping, sawing and drilling. Another unseen but ever-present star of the piece is the atmospheric soundtrack by Ansuman Biswas which complements the action perfectly with simple sing-along songs and haunting instrumentals.

It’s worth noting that even with the show’s unusual staging, the performance was made totally accessible to children with learning and physical difficulties and that the company made every effort to ensure the show was totally inclusive and enjoyable for all. Overall, there is little to fault with this enchanting, joyful production.

Improbable/National Theatre of Scotland
Wolves In The Walls
Lyric, Hammersmith
April 200

Reviewed by Penny Francis


There be metaphors in them there walls too… We meet a nuclear family in which the teenage kids (one boy one girl – the heroine rather too physically advanced for this kind of dreaming) have parents entirely wrapped up in their own hobbies (jam-making and tuba-playing). Our heroine Lucy (Frances Thorburn) is the younger of the two siblings and one senses a solitude and a longing to share the life either of her family or of the outside world. Her brother is a guitar-playing, screen games-immersed geek (Ryan Fletcher – very convincing). They share a rickety old house and Lucy knows there are wolves in its walls which are going to emerge and finish off the family. The scratchings and growlings are growing louder but mum, dad and brother are too self-obsessed to listen or indeed hear.

Wolves in the Wall is the first touring production of the National Theatre of Scotland, a company run from Glasgow to tour Scotland and beyond with only an administrative base for a home. This comic, scary musical is gloriously designed by Julian Crouch (of Improbable) in a style which is rough and ready, inspired by the illustrations of the book of the same name by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. It is good family fun with terrific moments of invention, but not enough to match the inspired designs and puppets. The wolves are hand-in-jaws and body-over-the-head puppets with visible actors operating underneath – actors, not puppeteers. They do not so much manipulate as fling the wolves around, which is a pity because they are wonderfully gangly, with jaws and shining eyes that are sometimes quite threatening, but not nearly threatening enough. Nor are they brought to life except in odd moments. The day of the puppet has come to theatre all right, but not the day of the puppeteer, alas.

Overall I was disappointed. To start with I have not read the book and I could find no context for the piece. Trying hard to read the score, I gathered it was set in the present day, but that’s all. Perhaps that was the point; perhaps it was a universal metaphor for lonely, frightened youth longing for Life to break open the cocoon of adolescence, into which the father and mother have obviously regressed. The wolves shake the whole family out of their complacency, and there are splendid chases in and around the house and its walls.

I liked the tension between the farce of the chase and the underlying scariness, but neither farce nor melodrama quite had the courage of their convictions and there was some internal lack of logic in both dramaturgy and directing. The show is enjoyable, but hasn’t quite gelled. Puzzling. But I will take a second look when it tours again in the autumn…

Mishimou
The 3 Little Pigs
Royal Exchange, Manchester
June 2006

Reviewed by Rachel Riggs


Mishimou are dangerous! So said a fellow audience member after the first show. ‘Mad and bad porno pig puppets cavort in lewd sex acts!’ the headline would run in a national tabloid newspaper. Mishimou’s new work begins innocently enough in a surreal world with animated rain and a large male puppet with an umbrella for a head then leaps into an abstract adult vision of The Three Pigs.’

This is no fairy tale… the pigs live in three post boxes, which are eventually blown apart by the male puppet (the wolf). Between scenes, animated sequences created by Paddy Molloy – with the traditional story crossed out – intersperse the action. Each scene is a combination of front/back shadows and/or 3D puppet play: for example, three women with lampshade bottom halves float and jump. One is forced to give oral sex to the large male puppet (presumably to show his nastiness as later he puts the pigs in cages and tortures one with a cigarette.) Then we see these same three women as shadows drifting across an animated background in a beautiful image which sticks in the mind. This multi-layered use of shadows has some clever moments, such as the pigs running then flying across a moving landscape before being murdered one by one. Super Pig saves their bacon and for revenge they go and fuck the man, literally….

There are some really strong, great ideas. Mishimou are certainly developing an anarchic feminist style and are not afraid to break the rules of traditional puppetry. It is fantastic to see this kind of work being made, but a director’s eye would have been a great benefit to pull the main thread of ideas together. Maria Ratcliffe and Rachael Ayres are both fine manipulators with strong presence and voice work, although more meat (so to speak) is needed to flesh out the main characters of the wolf and the pigs. Taboos are broken, but the context is unclear. When we see the pigs, played as hand puppets, there are some great moments of playing with the relationship of performer and puppets. Showing much potential, Mishimou need to get stuck into the semiotics of what they are saying to an audience and push further with developing their unique style.


Russian National Mail

Sputnik Theatre

BAC London
April 2006

Reviewed by Beccy Smith


Sputnik Theatre specialise in staging contemporary Russian Drama, and with Russian National Mail they bring a piece of work whose dramaturgy is notably foreign – it’s hard to find much recent English work with such a clearly absurdist aesthetic – but realised with such integrity and commitment you can’t fail to engage. Ivan Sidorovich is a lonely, elderly man, living out his final years in isolation and poverty on the one-room canvass of a tiny stage where he tracks listlessly from bed, to desk, to cupboard, to bed again. It’s a tragic set-up and a moving one: Kevin McGonagle’s performance is completely engaging, from vague clicks and mumblings to flamboyantly theatrical oratory. Sidorovich is a fascinating character whose resistance to the catastrophe of his life and ability to laugh at himself consistently subverts any clichéd expectations of the role.

Sidorovich motors the drama via a series of bizarre letters written to ‘real’ characters from his past and his imagination (including Lenin; Trotsky, Vivien Leigh and Queen Elizabeth II). Their replies, celebrating his life and talents are clearly self-penned and delivered with hilarious relish by McMonagle; but a combination of psychic energy and absurdist logic liberate those figures onto the stage where their own agenda – a nefarious struggle over who will most benefit from Sidorovich’s will (his imminent death hangs over the entire piece as a satisfyingly dramatic Damiclean sword) – colonises his dreams. It’s an unwieldy premise, but strong all-round performances and direction facilitate a playful suspension of disbelief and the unlikely collection of characters add colour and comedy to the tragic frame.

However it’s through the excellent puppetry work of Darren East and Zoë Hunter (of Unpacked) that the emotional heart, and theatrical punch, of the piece is expressed. A rag and paper puppet of Sidorovich’s lost love, delicately manipulated, brings an unexpectedly tender tone, offsetting the intellectualism of the premise beautifully, and wonderfully apt in the context of his scruffy apartment and the emotional displacement which seem to characterise his dealings with the world. A stroke of theatrical genius in the portrayal of death using one fabulously otherworldly foot was greeted with gasps of satisfaction from the audience.

The programme cites a communist critique, which somewhat passed me by (the collapsing of a political dialectic through the imaginative equivalence of Lenin with Vivien Leigh perhaps?) however it wasn’t missed in this imaginatively directed and excellently performed piece of theatrical new writing. An unexpected gem.


Lara Foot Newton and Lionel Newton
Hear and Now
Gate Theatre, London
June 2006

Reviewed by Seonaid Goody

Understanding the evolution of the process which led to Hear and Now perhaps goes some way to understanding the convoluted nature of this piece. Inspired by sketches inspired by stories which offered a springboard for ‘image’ workshops, it seems that the original plot structure may have been subordinated by a predilection for visual symbolism in this play. The point of the visual imagery however – doors and books littering the stage – is lost in the dense script which seemed reluctant to offer the same emphasis, and ultimately the symbolic function which these images may be intended to convey is incomprehensible to an audience who seem unaccustomed to seeking out symbolic meaning.

From the opening scene in which a crippled man, Jan (Lionel Newton), with puppet legs hanging from his waist shuffled toward us, to the close when he was joined by a woman, Elizabeth (Denise Newman), both staring hazily into the ether, it was virtually impossible to decipher any greater sense of meaning than a crude expression of the perversities of love, and even in that analysis it is difficult to provide greater specificity. The script is made up of a series of conversations between these two protagonists who have mutual fascinations with the people living around them and who over a period of time (weeks? years?) fall in love with one another. The unremarkable script was never brought off the page by either of the two actors and their extreme emotional outbursts sat uncomfortably alongside this and read as a superficial device to give some shape to a play with little substance.

In watching this play I couldn’t help but question whether any of those involved – actors and director, had managed to extract some meaning from it. Interestingly, the co-writers also make up one half of the cast and the director, which begs the question of whether the process of developing this piece lacked an objective perspective. Much of the script is delivered to the fourth wall but it was never clear who was being addressed when this device was used and what the role of the audience was intended to be.

The object manipulation in the play was handled clumsily throughout, and what should have been imaginative flourishes in the use of miniature doors and windows became annoying distractions. The use of these framing devices created the sense of claustrophobia well, but at the same time made for a play which was literally static and trapped within the walls of a small apartment. I felt concerned for the puppet legs rather than for the crippled character, and moments of transforming from being unable to stand to standing on normal legs were unexplained. The humanette bed was pleasing but such techniques were not explored at other moments. I have real difficulty in justifying the use of puppetry at all in this play as it offered no sense of parallel dimensions nor were the puppetry elements used to tell extraordinary tales; as a result the medium seemed to be exploited as a gimmick rather than an integral and essential means of expressing the story.

Hear and Now is a triumphantly forgettable piece of theatre, in which the weakness of script, actors, design and direction seem to have combined to create a confusion for both those on stage and the audience. It is laden with symbolism which is never realised. As I left the theatre I was overcome by the feeling that I’d slept through the previous ninety minutes.

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REVIEWS IN eDITION 16


Unpacked
No Obvious Trauma
Camden People’s Theatre, London
Sprint Festival
May 2006.
Reviewed by Beccy Smith

Barefeet Theatre
The Revenge Of The Moon Boy
Camden People’s Theatre, London
Sprint Festival
May 2006
Reviewed by John Ellingsworth

Laura Griffin
The Flickering Truths of a Cruel and Dirty Bitch
Camden People’s Theatre, London
Sprint Festival
May 2006
Reviewed by Beccy Smith

Vélo Theatre
There’s a Rabbit in the Moon
Old Market Arts Centre, Hove
Brighton Festival
May 2006
Reviewed by Penny Francis

Armonico Consort/ Orchestra of the Baroque
The Fairy Queen
Theatre Royal, Brighton
Brighton Festival
May 2006

Shofukutei Showko
Show-Ko – Japanese Sit Down Comedy
Marlborough Theatre, Brighton
Brighton Festival Fringe
May 2006

Told By An Idiot
The Evocation of Papa Mas
The Corn Exchange, Brighton
Brighton Festival
May 2006

Victoria Thierrée Chaplin and Aurélia Thierrée
Aurélia’s Oratorio
Lyric, Hammersmith
May 2006


Ripstop Productions
Little Fish Big Storm
Croydon Clocktower
May 2006
Reviewed by Marcus Reeves

Improbable/National Theatre of Scotland
Wolves In The Walls
Lyric, Hammersmith
April 200
Reviewed by Penny Francis

Mishimou
The 3 Little Pigs
Royal Exchange, Manchester
June 2006
Reviewed by Rachel Riggs

Russian National Mail
Sputnik Theatre
BAC London
April 2006
Reviewed by Beccy Smith

Lara Foot Newton and Lionel Newton
Hear and Now
Gate Theatre, London
June 2006
Reviewed by Seonaid Goody



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chattentheater/Shadow Theatre 3 by Rainer Reusch

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