The Thinker is a result of work by the Crisis Skylight Puppetry group under the leadership of Andreas Anguita. The Crisis website describes Anguita as a “sculptor who accidentally discovered a talent for puppetry”. An accidental puppeteer at the Accidental Festival has a satisfying circularity to it.

Anguita and his group’s puppets are wonderfully eerie. They have progressed from just making the puppets to devising performances, and have chosen to make ordinary household materials a trademark of their work; a combination of artistic exploration and (laudable) thrift. Wide-eyed and moon-faced, these creations glide around the stage as they tell the story of The Thinker, the tale of a wounded ego and the lengths that humans go to hide the facets of ourselves we think are unacceptable, creating masks to cover up our flaws.

The low-ceilinged studio is set up with a narrow performance area backed by a white cloth; centre stage an outsize mask of a face looks out expressionlessly. Props and set are minimal and actors dress in white. The sound of wind through trees fills the auditorium as puppets and puppeteers enter – a mute exchange of gestures tell a short tale of exploration, suggestion, rejection and discovery. A lonely boy is ignored and mocked, excluded from the group. A skeleton ship, deftly manoeuvred, makes its way across the stage blowing bubbles from the stern as its ghostly cotton sails blow in the breeze. Tiny human figures are picked up, examined and then discarded at ungainly angles in a rubbish bin. A blonde girl tears out her hair, leaving a trail across the stage. The Thinker gives a baritone monologue.

Despite the elegance and other-worldliness of the masks and puppets, the piece feels very much a series of moving tableaux. Each scene is an intriguing snapshot in its own right but a lack of connecting internal narrative makes it hard to know exactly what I’m watching. As the show is associated with Crisis, the temptation is to read a message of abandonment into every scene, of characters being cut off from others, but this makes the piece more one-dimensional than its adventurous aesthetic – just because the art was made by people who have experienced homelessness doesn’t mean that this is all we should expect to see in their art. Practically on stage, there is too long between exits from one scene and the entrances of the next, and the general speed should be quicker – I count at least 30 seconds gap at the scene changes. At several points the stage action is split across too big a space, diluting the power of the scene. However most of these mechanical issues can be dealt with by more rehearsal time in the venue. For a festival of this kind finding more time is tricky, but it is a point to bear in mind for their next piece. Also, as a group who work with large and occasionally unwieldy props, they could help themselves by taking on additional stage management – an extra pair of hands to take a puppet or hold a curtain back would make changes smoother and, crucially, faster.

Still there are eye-catching images. The lighting is well done, with an especially beautiful ink-and-water back-projection on the central mask. The final scene uses a puppet which, Goliath-like, rises to the ceiling. It (or he? It seems masculine to me) is made of plastic water bottles and cling film and is internally lit by chains of white fairy lights – a night-sky constellation trapped in an ungainly human body. It must have taken hours to make and was a fittingly stellar climax to an ethereal performance.

 

 

The Crisis Skylight Puppetry group is now five years old and are building a performance portfolio year on year. It debuted at this festival last year and has also performed at the Lord Mayor’s Show.