Posts Tagged ‘Suspense Puppetry Festival’

Mini-review – The Fantasist – Theatre Temoin at Tristan Bates Theater: Suspense Festival

November 1, 2013

One of the things I like about puppetry is how it lets performers go further than they can when working with just humans. Puppets can fly easily, their heads can come off (and keep talking); with puppets, there’s no reason why “real bears” can’t have houses and make porridge. For this reason, I was more inclined than not to believe the publicity materials for The Fantasist, which said it explored “the murky depths and glorious heights of bipolar disorder.” I’ve known a lot of people with this problem, and I thought that puppetry could really allow the performance to get to places it might have had a hard time managing just using people (not that the puppets weren’t manipulated by people!), and had high hopes for a good show. Or, you know, it could be exploitative, or cutesy, or overly condescending; but my fingers were crossed.

As it turns out, this show rated the hype, and was, in fact, even better than I’d imagined … solidly grounded in the reality of bipolar disorder, yet able to communicate the lived experience to the audience in a way that had me tearing up and was imaginative and thoughtful. The center of the play is Louise (Julia Yevnine), a young woman whose brain is taking her for a ride. Sometimes she’s barreling along at exhilarating speeds, some times slowing to a pace approaching that of growing trees (nicely illustrated by having people speak quickly when Louise makes this switch). Her fears, paranoias, and delusions are captured at times as puppets speaking to her, but at other times simply by the refusal of the furniture (or her body) to behave normally. Interspersed with the puppetry/manipulation bits are scenes where she is visited by her NHS carer as well as a friend of hers: this allows us to see/mirror the difficulty “normal” people have in dealing with people who are bipolar, but also to see, in reality, what it looks like from the “outside” (taking medication, not getting medication, how to give advice/see things from a medical perspective).

It was clear from watching this what an incredibly messy life this is from the inside, and how isolating it can all be, when your head is working against you and making you act in ways that drive people away (Louise accidentally slapping her friend when she was startled being one example). You want to see Louise succeed when her artistic influences are in control, but it doesn’t change the fact that the frame of mind she’s in when she’s most inspired can also be very dangerous for her. And the loneliness … when one little puppet crawled in her lap and said, “I love you,” I nearly broke.

At the end, I was amazed to see that the puppeteers (Cat Gerrard and Julia Correa) had also been playing the other two women all along. It in some way added some additional psychological depth to the story, but, really, it didn’t need any more. The Fantasist was an excellent play that warmly rewarded the investment of one hour and twelve quid: I hope all nights are as full as the one I attended.

(This review is for a performance that took place at 7 PM on Thursday, October 31st, 2013. It continues through Saturday, November 2nd.)

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London 2013 Spooky Theater Roundup

October 31, 2013

After a brief discussion with some other theater bloggers, I’ve decided to do a SPOOKY THEATER SPECIAL for you guys out there in readerville. Do you want to get SCARED for Halloween? Read on …

If you’re looking for traditional chills and thrills, it’s the last night of the third annual London Horror Festival. Perhaps you might enjoy a modernized Fall of the House of Ushers? Poe is perfect for Halloween and I think making the lead characters conceptual artists provides all sorts of opportunities for creepiness. Get in!

If you want to be frightened by what might be, I’d suggest visiting the Suspense Festival of Puppetry, a multi-week event being put on by the good folks at the Little Angel Theater – puppetry but not for kids. Tonight I’m going to see The Fantasist, a show about bipolar disorder – something which can be deeply terrifying, especially if it’s happening to you. If you’d prefer a classic tale of terror, you might want to try Little Angel’s own Macbeth – not on tonight but still a good time.

How about being frightened at how justice can be perverted in a nation in which “all men are created equal?” Yep, I’m telling you straight, if you want to feel like your heart is being ripped out of your body, The Scottsboro Boys at the Young Vic is like being strapped on top of an Aztec pyramid and awaiting communion with the sun god, only with really great music.

Would you prefer a show in which you WISH for death to come? In that case, perhaps From Here to Eternity is your cup of tea. As the actors totter woodenly about on stage while hauling out yet another cliche, you’ll be thinking that being bombed would be a relief.

Finally, what is scarier than OLD AGE? Even if you hang on that long, the possibilities of ill health and dementia are terrifying. Nothing captures that feeling better than Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Vic, which at least has the comedy value of the producing company having the brass balls to charge people 65 quid a pop to watch this turkey. You’ll want to run away as if a wall of blood was chasing you down the aisles. And suddenly, even though puppets are scary to some people, I’m guessing that Macbeth is sounding better and better …

Review – Marionette “Out of the Heart of Darkness” – Movingstage at the Puppet Barge

November 6, 2009

Last night was my one and sadly only visit to a Suspense Puppetry Festival event; though I love puppets, I only heard about it after my theater calender had pretty solidly filled up. My choice was Movingstage Marionette Company’s “Out of the Heart of Darkness.” I thought it would be great to see such a seminal work of literature on the small stage: imagining Marlon Brando (of Darkness redo “Apocalypse Now”) at 1/10th size cracked me up.

But I also wanted to go because my husband has a fascination with colonial Africa and the way the West wrecked the culture and the lives of the people living there (reading books like King Leopold’s Ghost and Casualty of Empire), some of which I’ve absorbed. This production, set deep in the heart of blood diamond country, had full awareness of the literary background, the colonial baggage, and the modern day tragedies of the Congo. The frame was the wife of exiled dictator Mobuto Sese Seko asking the narrator to aid her in getting her hands on her family’s frozen assets; and the enigmatic man Kurtz, at the heart of the story’s orbit, runs a diamond concern with the ruthlessness so many in this position, in that land, have displayed.

Sadly, the production never succeeded in conveying the mystique of Kurtz in a compelling way, despite the fact that most of the characters spoke about him at length; this left it all feeling a bit like a “waiting for Godot” where after the big buildup you actually do find Godot and he’s about as impressive as the Wizard of Oz. On the other hand, perhaps Wizard is a better comparison altogether, as both stories are really about the journey and the changes wrought in the travellers by taking it; the human inciting the trip is a bit of an afterthought. I am convinced, however, that Kurtz is in no way meant to be an afterthought. I will have to read Conrad to be sure. And the overall effect was really diminished by having all of the dialogue and music provided as a recording. I realize that getting the right effects for this show (about five male characters and two female) must have been difficult with a troupe consisting of about four women and one man – but the recording took away the spontanaeity of the show and really created barriers to engagement with the story for me.

That said, I must praise the technical execution of this show. Aside from the lovely puppets and their graceful manipulation, the show also had the best set design I’ve seen on the small stage – a lovely series of fore, back, and middle ground set pieces, with a backdrop that could change color to express mood (not surprising for regular theater but notable for puppets). In addition, there was a fun drop in the shape of binoculars to show the audience what the narrator was seeing, and some silliness involving the bottom half of puppets dancing. Finally, I have to especially commend them for depicting Kurtz as a puppet with an eye hole bored straight through his head – the otherworldly feeling this created nicely captured his disconnection with reality.

In short, this was a good evening, but not a brilliant one, good for lovers of puppets, Africa, or Joseph Conrad. I do hope that next year there is another puppet festival and I’ll have a chance to pick from a series of shows like this one again.

(“Out of the Heart of Darkness” continues through Sunday, November 8th, 2009.)