Blind Summit do puppetry well. In fact, they do it bloody brilliantly and The Table is most definitely proof of this. Launching the 2012 London International Mime Festival, Blind Summit bring a triptych of puppetry work that explores banraku puppetry, blacked out rod puppetry and some French film noir inspired paper animation. It’s a feat of work that celebrates, often with tongue-in-cheek style, the very principles of puppetry work as they become laugh out loud theatre for all.
The Table is headlined as a forty minute semi-improvisational banraku puppet enacting in real-time the 12 hours of Moses on the simple fold away table placed on the stage. This table evoking the show’s name is Moses’ performance space, his world, and without it, well, he is nothing more than the puppeteers that operate behind him. Moses is an aggressive, sexual beast of a puppet, but this is handled with such cheek that Blind Summit’s Mark Down and Nick Barnes, founders of the company who also perform alongside Sean Garratt and Sarah Calver, make full light of the obvious with puppetry. Moses points out his operators, and shows how they move him about the space. He describes the three rules of puppetry: focus, fixed point and breath (and even goes as far as to show how not to do them). It’s playful, it comes with an underlying sadness and realness that ripples through every captivating move made from him.
It’s this sense of playfulness and breaking apart the rules of puppetry to expose what often we are all thinking (you’re not alive, I can see the puppeteers behind you etc) that makes The Table really stand out. The simplicity of a puppet speaking for forty minutes might not sound like an ideal night at the theatre, but in the hands of Blind Summit, the puppet is brought to magnificent life. It is some of the best, and perhaps cheekiest, puppetry I’ve seen. It not only knows full well the power it has on its audience, but it also knows itslimitations too – Warhorse this isn’t.
The other two episodes within The Table are slightly more surreal, especially the middle piece which sees three portraits bring to life heads and figures beyond, in what can only be described as a dance of death. These figures, with their disembodied limbs, float in their frames, and as a trio of portraits lit by birdies from below, they loom large and haunting and are oddly mesmerising to watch. Perhaps harking back to some of more conceptual work that is featured in London’s Mime Festival, the sheer visual beauty of this animation allows the images to wash over you – a pleasant change to the dialogue-led first act.
To close, the Blind Summit team present a piece made entirely from drawings on sheets of A4 paper which float and reveal themselves from a single briefcase. The simplicity of the drawings, coupled with snippets of text against an epic symphony of music, is a wonderful finish to the evening. Drawing on such a different style of manipulation, and whilst I’m sure it wasn’t to the tastes of puppetry purists, it is expertly conceived and executed.
For years, the art of puppetry has been edging its audience further, through festivals and work of notable puppetry companies. It’s great therefore to see Blind Summit bringing a real sense of cheeky charm to their work, dispelling the myth that puppetry has be cute and pretty, when actually the best of it comes from the gutsy, angsy Moses who sits within us all. If you get the chance to see one thing that you will know will astound any puppetry or visual theatre cynic then The Table has to be it. A sure fire hit for everyone.