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Tag Archive | "Puppetry"

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Review: At The End Of Everything Else, Unicorn Theatre

Posted on 03 April 2014 by Lucy Bishop

At the End of Everything Ever

At The End Of Everything Else is a charming production following the story of a young girl, Icka, who lives with her father and often dreams of her deceased mother. Through the media of shadow puppetry, animation and sound we are taken on a magical journey as Icka searches for her lost best friend Tito, a little yellow bird. In doing so she travels around the world and takes us along for a whimsical ride.

The main point of focus is the screen hanging centre stage, which uses a variety of mixed media to create beautiful imagery such as montages of Icka’s daily routine before and after the adventure, the northern lights, and touching moments between the projected Tito and the shadow puppet Icka. However these gorgeous visuals feel somewhat undermined by the fact that young people are being asked to sit and stare predominately at a large screen in a theatre, which proudly announces that “all our shows are in 3D”.

The whole production is powered by several bikes that are pedalled on the side of the stage, enforcing the eco-friendly message of the piece. It is hugely refreshing to see a company not only preaching about saving the planet, but creatively incorporating ways of doing so. The highlight of the production is when children from the audience are invited on stage to help generate electricity to save Tito. In that moment there is a real connection between the performers and the audience, which creates a magical atmosphere in the theatre. Such effort goes in to ensuring the production itself is eco-friendly, that it is disappointing that the narrative does not echo this more clearly.

The design of At The End Of Everything is very in keeping with the sweet story. John Horabin’s animation is charming and holds the production together, while the puppets have a quality similar to the work of artist Rob Ryan. They are just as delightful as the animation and are well manipulated, particularly a fully-working cardboard bike that becomes Icka’s means of flying round the world. Perspective is used well to keep the images engaging and constantly changing, and the interaction between the animation and puppets is impressive. Around the edges of the space there is a trail of empty water bottles that are lit in different colours, again reinforcing the eco-friendly message as well as being aesthetically pleasing.

Due to the technicality of the production there are some dead moments as puppets, bikes and projections are negotiated: this is somewhat disengaging for younger members of the audience and generally the pace of the piece could have been picked up to keep them hooked. Overall though, The End Of Everything Else is a visually stimulating, charming production with an original take on saving the planet.

At The End Of Everything Else is playing at the Unicorn Theatre until 19 April. For more information and tickets see the Unicorn Theatre website.

Lucy Bishop

Lucy Bishop

Lucy is orginally from Bristol and is currently in her final year studying Physical Theatre at East 15. She is part of a comedy Music duo called "Silly People" and is a lover or scramble egg, Louis Theroux and puppets

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INCOMING Preview: Smoking Apples and Little Cauliflower

Posted on 25 March 2014 by Kate Wyver

Smoking Apples – CELL

Puppetry is all about movement. A group of puppeteers creating a show about an incurable muscle-wasting condition that takes away all mobility sounds like a paradox, but the deterioration of movement with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) is what drives Smoking Apples and Little Cauliflower’s new show, CELL. This show is part of A Younger Theatre’s Incoming Festival in May. It is the first collaboration between the two companies, with Little Cauliflower coming at puppetry from the design and technical point of view, and Smoking Apples from a performance one.

Molly Freeman from Smoking Apples says they decided to “go somewhere neither company had gone before”, wanting to explore movement and loss of movement with puppetry. “The overwhelming thing that we found when we met people with MND was that they were so positive, so hopeful.” This mindset has been the basis of the puppet character of Ted, who is “living with Motor Neurone Disease, not dying from it”.

The team did a lot of research on the disease in preparation for the show, working with the Motor Neurone Disease Association and the Royal Hospital of Neuro-Disabilities, to get a grasp of the biomedical side of it. Whilst it’s not an issue based show, “it’s nice to do a little bit to help raise awareness”. Several members of the cast have direct experience of family members with MND and wanted their play to be based in something factual but also personal.

In the play, which is almost entirely non-verbal (“that’s been a challenge”), Ted’s home life is interrupted by lots of people but they’re not necessarily his friends. His one companion is his goldfish, also a puppet. “We decided to try something quite obscure like a goldfish as something he could build a relationship with, and see how much character and personality we could get in it… It’s easier to show someone’s character, their compassion, all those really nice human qualities, when you’ve got a companion.” Ted and his pet fish go on an adventure, showing us the reanimation of this man’s life when he’s losing his ability to move.

As part of the preparation, the companies held rehearsals in Folkestone in a room with glass walls through which they were visible from the street. Freeman says it was like being in a fishbowl. The idea was to attract attention from the locals and engage them, and it was “quite bizarre for the first few days”. During this process they spent a lot of time “smashing everything apart and putting it back together again”, which Freeman describes as a necessary evil in order to intensify and tighten the play. They often get asked whether they are puppeteers or actors, but Freeman insists they are both. “There is a skill in balancing both of them as when you puppeteer you’re pushing your energy through an object but don’t want to be too prevalent.”

Both companies are extremely excited to be part of INCOMING. “It is such a good idea and I was so excited when the line up was announced,” says Freeman. “It’s great to see top quality stuff and be surrounded by brilliant people. That network of people is really important, and is one of the reasons we love collaborating.” Smoking Apples and Little Cauliflower have known each other for three years, and the timing suddenly seemed right to make a show together. Freeman notes that “in a true collaboration you can see both styles working together”, but she says there is still the individual identity of each company within the show. They have all learnt about themselves and their strengths. “We have used our different styles to create something new. They wanted to learn something from us and we wanted to learn something from them.”

The Incoming Festival is a co-production between A Younger Theatre and the New Diorama Theatre. Freeman is looking forward to working at the New Diorama, which they have never performed at before, but which she says has a really incredible support system for emerging artists: “Being given those mentoring skills is invaluable.” She has also followed A Younger Theatre since the beginning: “The form in which it’s done is very clever and insightful,and it doesn’t shy away from the stuff that’s difficult too. It allows everyone access to it.” She stresses the importance of there being a voice for young people making theatre and performance.

CELL has been in development between the two companies for nearly a year. Animating a puppet of a man with no movement is not an obvious treatment of the subject, but hopefully it will achieve Freeman’s ambition: “We really want to push the boundaries of puppetry.”

CELL is at the New Diorama Theatre on 20 May as part of A Younger Theatre’s INCOMING Festival. For more information and tickets, visit NDT’s website

 

Kate Wyver

Kate Wyver

Kate Wyver tries to go to as much theatre as A Levels will allow. She is going to read Theatre and Performance Studies at Bristol University next year.

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Review: Macbeth, Little Angel Theatre

Posted on 15 October 2013 by Richard Pettifer

Macbeth Little Angel Theatre

Many seem to miss the fact that Macbeth is pretty far-fetched. Sometimes our understanding of supernatural elements borders on the mundane: “Of course a dagger appears out of nowhere. Of course witches tell Macbeth his future. Ah yes – a ghost. Saw one last night!” I suppose this is a result of the post-Shakespearean normalisation of fantasy. Ghosts? We’ve got a world full of talking fish, wizards, teenage vampires and superheroes. Ghosts seem kind of, well, ordinary. But really, Macbeth is no Hamlet or Othello: it asks for a great suspension of disbelief.

The supernatural elements of Macbeth would appear on the surface to sit well with the medium of puppetry, given that the essence of that form is the animation of the inanimate object. Both puppetry and the supernatural create illusory doubles that ask a very real question through an opposing idea – what is the difference between a human and an object? And what is ‘natural’? These two questions, while not the same, are certainly related, and find their basis in the central problem of what it means to be human, and the methods by which we elevate ourselves from the animal, vegetable or mineral worlds.

Therefore it’s appropriate that Little Angel’s production of Macbeth chooses the form of an animal – the bird – to unite these two prongs of animation and supernatural into one cohesive instrument. Watching these false cocks strut and fret about the intimate theatre, their beaks protruding greedily and aggressively as they proclaim the dark machinations of the thick plot against the graceful swans, rather brings home the point that whilst we may make this distinction between animals and objects, the reality is that this is entirely artificial. Just as we may humanise an animal or anthropomorphise an object, the human being, at times, becomes object and/or animal. (There is even a case in the text for them becoming vegetables, as Birnam Wood grows legs and wanders over to Dunsinane.)

That the virtually unlimited potential for this concept is not fully exploited by a tight, workmanlike show, I put down to its surprising insistence to deliver text. Given that, perhaps even more surprisingly, this text is pre-recorded, a lot hinges on James Hesford’s carefully orchestrated Gothic score, the poetry of gesture, and the synchronisation of all of that to deliver vitality to each scene and trajectory to the story. Deliver it does – to a point. Yet I couldn’t help but feel that it robs the play of its primary tool for overcoming the suspension of disbelief – the humanity in the text – lending weight instead to its already gross spectacle.

The play is at its most successful when it works with pure visual and aural metaphor, such as an exquisite representation of the slaughtering of Macduff’s castle. His “pretty chickens and their dam. At one fell swoop?” are literally chickens, and their death a simple white handkerchief with stains of blood placed over the nest, and a slow passing into dormancy: a fascinating arm-wrestle – “What beast was’t, then, / That made you break this enterprise to me?” – that again employs a white sheet in a kind of tug-of-war, or final battle in a brutal cock-fight. But too often gesture and score are left to articulate a pre-recorded life, its own inanimate presence forcefully re-inscribing its omnipotence. This is no slight on the voice actors: it’s a natural consequence of disconnection, perhaps itself of necessity born, but ultimately releasing the audience from empathy with the fantastic.

Macbeth is playing at the Little Angel Theatre until 10 November. For more information and tickets, see the Little Angel Theatre website.

Richard Pettifer

Richard Pettifer is a Berlin-based theatre director and performance artist. He blogs about Berlin theatre at theaterstuck.blogspot.de, and his political work ‘People Spoke’ was performed at the Festival of the Wandering Hangar on September 28.

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: It’s Dark Outside

Posted on 05 August 2013 by Jake Orr

It's Dark Outside

[post-author-rating] (4/5 Stars)

There’s an awful lot of puppetry at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, which is to be expected given the fact that puppetry is back in fashion for theatre-makers. Whilst this should be celebrated, it does present a problem: there are far too many inexperienced companies attempting to work puppetry into their pieces with little regard for the art of puppetry. Thankfully there are companies such as Perth Theatre Company which brought the hit The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer to Edinburgh last year, which are proving that they can study, master and kick some ass with puppets, as the company’s new show It’s Dark Outside proves.

Now there is a slight warning that is required about It’s Dark Outside: it falls into that slightly whimsical category of theatre that plucks at your heartstrings, and includes clouds and dogs, and general cuteness. Setting that aside, what you have left is a piece of puppetry manipulation with animated projections that demonstrates a delight in puppetry movement and storytelling. An old man with wrinkled face, and glasses and a walking stick is the focus of the piece, and is presented in human-form, rod puppetry and animation. He finds himself on the face of a ‘Wanted’ poster for some crime, and begins to hit the road, with a sherif stalking behind him (old Western style). As the old man’s adventure begins, he meets a series of manipulated objects, such as a tent that acts like a dog, and a dog made out of clouds. There’s also a repeated motif of memory loss, which underpins the piece with a more serious message, as his thoughts appear in whispy clouds that float away despite his desperation to hold onto them.

In all, it’s a  delightful piece. We can appreciate the skill and talent of Tim Webb, Arielle Gray and Chris Isaacs who perform the piece. There are moments of visual delight that really are done to perfection. The care and thought that’s gone into the show are obvious, and individual moments that make your eyes shine and your lips smile are numerous. Through mask, puppetry, animation and object manipulation It’s Dark Outside shows how puppetry should be done: acting as a form of joyous entertainment, showing the skill and commitment required to make puppetry work (Edinburgh performing companies take note) whilst still delivering a serious message about dementia. It’s not often my eyes tingle from seeing something visually captivating but Perth Theatre Company nails it, and will no doubt sell out during its run at the Edinburgh Fringe. A London transfer? We can only hope!

It’s Dark Outside is playing at Underbelly as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 26 August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe Festival website.

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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