La Mama Courthouse Theatre, Carlton
28- 30 November
Puppetry has long left behind any notions of cuteness and quaintness, becoming a theatrical force in its own right. You only need to think of shows like War Horse or Lion King to acknowledge its power. At its best, puppetry combines the visually arresting with a strong narrative drive to captivate audiences.
Writer and director Ben Anderson and his troupe of eight puppeteers from The People Who Play With Theatre company have brought WAKE to La Mama as part of the Explorations series of new works. It combines visual theatre and Bunraku – Japanese-style puppetry, in which the puppeteers, hooded and dressed in black, manipulate the puppets silently in full view of the audience. But WAKE’s puppeteers are also narrators, actors, singers and actively participate in the hour-long show.
Visually, WAKE is a treat and shows how everyday objects can be turned into magical delights with flair and imagination. Little bits of tissue paper take flight as birds, balls of tinfoil circle as atoms, light bulbs twinkle into stars and lanterns morph into planets. A simple roll of cloth is transformed into a sheet, a shroud, and a backdrop for shadow puppets.
The narrative, however, lets the show down badly, being both confusing and chaotic. MAN puppet is on some sort of quest for the truth. He has left behind GIRL puppet and their SON. GIRL attempts to explain MAN’s wayward ways and muddled thoughts to SON. His father was troubled by conspiracy theories, she says, fearful of climate change deniers, needing to go his own way and eventually suicided.
There’s a lot of convoluted philosophy and science in this show, overlaid with a didactic tone that jars and detracts from what could have been a much simpler and effective story line. As an ensemble, though, The People Who Play With Theatre are excellent. They are triple threats who can sing, dance and act and their a capella singing is particularly skilful and a highlight of the piece.
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