Birdheart has been co-commissioned by VisionIntoArt and National Sawdust’s curator in resident program. It is created and performed by Julian Crouch and Saskia Lane. Performed in the charismatic Norwich Puppet Theatre as a part of the Manipulate Festival, and billed as a ‘stunning chamber piece of animated theatre’, this show promised sophistication, sincerity, and heart, which it absolutely delivered.
The tactile nature of the set and puppet make you want to reach out and play. The set is a wooden box, spilling over with sand containing all manners of treasures. The puppet is a simple piece of brown paper accessorised with miniatures such as a little pair of shoes and hands. The paper itself, being the consistent element of the puppet, is brown and creased which when hatched from its egg feels like it’s old before it’s time. The transformations that the paper goes through are very imaginative, with some genuinely funny moments.
The audience were completely sold on the little character before them; laughing at its confusion when young, and empathising with its isolation as it grew old. When eventually its fragile paper body rips slightly it is surprising, almost as if we had forgotten that it is made of paper. Whether this rip was intentional or not, it really solidified the concept of life and death and of bodies being born, changed and broken. There is a lot of emotion in this show, and although the puppeteers, Crouch and Lane, did not draw the eye away from the action of the paper puppet, the audience can’t help but sneak a peek at how tenderly they manipulate the little hatchling and how good the chemistry was in their handling.
The lighting and sound accentuates the puppetry. The tonality of the set is brought out by being down-lit with warm light, lending some lovely shadows. The soundtrack helps the audience to understand the puppet and the environment, from a well timed banjo to the whistling of the wind. Everything appeared carefully considered.
Due to the small stature of the set and puppet I was worried that the action might become lost, however I felt completely drawn in even halfway back in the theatre. I imagine that the front rows would benefit from the detail in some of the props such as the various carved heads, but that is just a different experience to the more impressionistic version you get further back. The show is short, billed at 30 minuets, however Birdheart leaves you with much food for thought, as well as the satisfaction of watching something beautiful. This was the first puppeteer collaboration between Crouch and Lane, and after seeing Birdheart hopefully there will be many more.