Blood and Bone is a brand new puppet show from Cicada Studios. On at the Vaults Festival, these four young puppeteers presented a wild and eccentric flora and fauna-themed show.
Following the plight of young fern, Ash, we come across several larger than life shrub-like puppets. There are his two friends in the greenhouse, the sensual Rose from the garden centre, a very grisly Donald Trump root, and then a very sinister spade. In chasing down Rose after a night of horticulture passion (the most explicit plant sex scene ever staged) Ash realises that it is more important to follow his roots.
A slight weakness in narrative is made up for with the incredible puppets and characters, and the clever writing from this team whose script is jam-packed with horticultural-themed jokes. There are also plenty of physical gags too, with the performers diverting from their puppets on occasion to sing and perform outlandish dance routines. The puppet gags on occasion crossed over from puppet on puppet interaction to puppet on puppeteer interaction bringing some of the biggest laughs of the night particularly in the post-coital scene between Ash and Rose. Special character mention to the camp German techno fungi who was hilarious – “We’re just fun guys yaaaaaa”!
Overall this was a very entertaining evening of puppetry from a young group of performers combining a lot of clever writing, inventive puppetry, whilst playing to their budget perfectly. We look forward to the next puppet show from this group
In life, there is always time for theatre. Especially when reality starts to take a turn for the worse, what better solution than heading along to your local theatre for some theatre treats. Even better when those theatre treats cost less £15! Here we round up our latest bunch of new theatre which you can indulge in for less than fifteen pounds!
Mitchell answers an ad for a roommate and finds himself in a backwoods West Virginia motel with JD, an affable hillbilly of mysterious origins. Soon JD’s neighbours – curmudgeonly Flip, meth-head Marlene, and her hot-headed beau, Tommy – have all but taken over the tiny room. Mitchell finds himself in a hopeless predicament. Hopeless – but for the power of dance…?
Mr Fox is smart, clever and rather fantastic, but he doesn’t realise how determined the farmers are to get revenge. Can he hatch a plan to save his family and friends? Can they outrun the diggers and outsmart the farmers? And can Rabbit shut up long enough not to give the game away?
Hearing Things is based on five years of collaboration with both staff and patients in mental health institutions, drawing together the stories, dilemmas and challenges faced by the ‘healthy’ and the ‘ill’ in communities whose voices are seldom heard.
This Is Not Culturally Significant is an intense and darkly comic one-man show which unveils the bizarre, compulsive and eccentric nature of humanity. Over ten characters are portrayed; from a pathologically lying classics professor to a despondent American porn star on the brink of her retirement.
We were kindly invited to ‘The Little Gardener’ a free puppet show based on the popular children’s book of the same name. And so we strolled down to Hammersmith’s Lyric square to find a mini glass house surrounded by deck chairs set up outside the theatre.
Performed by solo puppeteer Peter Hobday, he brought The Little Gardener to life in wonderful fashion, and more impressively managed actually to do some serious gardening in the process. The story goes that the poor Little Gardener has been asleep and awakes to find his garden in a bit of a state. Trash is littered all over the place, whilst a yellow weed seems to have taken over most of the beds. The Little Gardner wakes up, says hello to a couple of worms and tries to clean things up, but a huge storm blows him away, ruining his efforts to tidy up his garden. Maybe he is just to too small to look after such a big garden. Why not sleep on it, he thinks.
Then the real magic happens. Whilst he sleeps, all the children and sprogs are invited into the greenhouse to tidy up. They get rid of the rubbish and weeds and plant flowers in all of his beds, leaving The Little Gardener’s garden looking like something out of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
There was a charming original soundtrack from Darren Clark, which had us humming Little Gardener songs all the way home. The mini greenhouse was the perfect interactive set for the kids and the message to children was clear. See the enjoyment and pleasure you can get from developing green fingers and tending a garden. Well done to the whole How It Ended team and good luck with their tour of The Little Gardener.
Highlight of the piece – The Little Gardener’s boogie and the moment when the kiddies were invited in to sort out the garden.
It is sad when you go to children’s/family theatre and there are only two kids in the audience. Especially when what you see is a charming, wonder filled fairytale that leaves you in awe. Nonetheless, ‘Trick of the Light’ from New Zealand have created a great show here for all ages.
A bookbinder is looking for a young apprentice to work for him. He starts to tell us about the previous boy who worked for him and so begins his beautifully spun tale. The previous apprentice had been sucked into a book and adventures on a mesmerising journey to try and regain a lost page from a book he unwittingly promised to repair for an old lady in a single day.
Merging beautiful storytelling, shadow puppetry and an ingenious pop up book, Ralph McCubbin Howell does extremely well to lead and narrate this one man show and fills the room with warmth. Never before have we seen such an effective use of a table lamp, a cleverer use of ink or a more outrageous pair of scissors.
Highlight of the Show – The endless surprises, magic and wonder.
Here’s our latest dose of top-notch current and upcoming theatre in London, all for under £15. This week’s selection includes an ethical puppet show, eight short plays in one and Neil LaBute’s return the London stage.
Right Now – Bush Theatre – £10 matinees for students, over 60′s, unemployed and disabled, £12.50 for students, unemployed and disabled on evening performances – until 16 April
“Right Now is a play with a dark heart, a disquieting exploration of one woman’s crisis and darkest desires. It walks a delicate line between playful laughter and deep trauma, teasing and thrilling audiences from beginning to end.”
Reasons to be Happy – Hampstead Theatre – £10-15 tickets for students and under 30s – until 23 April
“Neil LaBute’s romantic comedy explores “unfinished business”: even though couples breakup and friends may drift apart, certain relationships never really cease. But does stepping backwards ever bring true happiness? Or is it actually sometimes the only way to secure it?”
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea – Theatre N16 – £12/10 – 3-14 April (No shows Friday or Saturday)
“A fierce dance of the displaced, Theatrum Veritatus brings an explosive, deeply affecting study of alienation and the redemptive power of love. Two castaways fight their way to each other and cling violently in a sea of hardship for a chance at the happiness afforded to most but denied to them.”
Leaper – Little Angel Theatre – £10/8 – 8-10 April
“Although it sounds like a tale from a children’s story, the reality is that fish are starting to disappear from our rivers and seas. Why? And how can one little girl help stop it? Leaper: A Fish Tale follows one fish’s magical quest against the ever-growing natural and man-made monsters in our seas.”
Twelfth Night – The Hope Theatre – £14/12 – 12-30 April (No shows Sunday or Monday)
“Following last year’s critically acclaimed and award-nominated The Tempest, Thick as Thieves return to The Hope Theatre with one of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies. Expect high energy, breakneck costume changes and sparkling wit as our company of four actors takes on all thirteen roles.”
Little Angel Puppet Theatre have created a puppet version of Roald Dahl’s beloved tale about the ladderless window cleaning team, ‘the giraffe the pelly and me’, and do so with a creativity that pleased many a little one.
This is a tale about small boy, Billy, whose local but abandoned ‘grubber’ (an old term for a sweetshop in Billy’s part of the world) is bought by a giraffe, a pelican and a monkey who use it as a base for their ladderless window cleaning team. With the help of the boy, they manage to secure work for the Duke of Hampshire to clean the 677 windows of his house. They also foil a robbery and manage to get some food into their rumbling bellies.
Created on a budget, Little Angel Theatre have used inventive ways to create the puppets which despite being made out of simple household objects, still attract the reaching hands of wide-eyed childers when the puppets, particularly the giraffe, lean into the audience. However, it did seem odd to see a puppet show whose faces had no movement at all, bar the pelly’s upper jaw although this was not used for speech. Maybe this was just their chosen style.
Of the songs written for the show the title song stood out the most, although herein lies our only criticism. As the performers were clearly puppeteers and voice artists first, some of the singing was slightly lacking, not that that put off any of the children. The monkey was a great character and was voiced really well, although it was the dastardly criminal, the cobra, who stole the show for us with his worm-like movement.
A real winner for children at the Little Angel Theatre, but it needed a bit more to cross over in order to appeal to older viewers, but if you’re a fan of Roald Dahl you’ll still enjoy this.
Highlight of the show – The Cobra’s entrance, worming his way across the stage.
Dr Seuss’ favourite work is finally brought to the stage thanks to the Old Vic. Brilliantly developed, this re-imagining of the classic children’s story develops the characters and story further, drawing on contemporary culture, as well as adding dance and songs.
David Greig’s adaptation is based on Dr Seuss’ rhyming fable for children. The story is a polemic against the wholesale destruction of our natural environment to make pointless consumer goods. Greig has developed the background of the old Once-ler, the first person to come across the land of the Brown Bar-ba-loots, the Swomee Swans, the Humming Fish and, of course, the Truffula Trees, without losing any of Seuss’s original charm or poetry. This new version makes much of the Once-ler’s avaricious manufacturing family and their hunger for their next project. In the second half, the story takes the whole production of the thneed onto a new level with an insane catwalk scene presenting the new Thneed 2.0 to some wild rock and roll music. A wider criticism of capitalism becomes evident here.
Charlie Fink, former frontman of Noah and the Whale, has done a good job in composing the songs to this show, with a number of notable numbers. If only the soundtrack was out already – we would love to have another listen.
The set starts grey and grim just as the far end of the town is pictured in the book, but brilliantly transforms into the lush and colourful land where Truffula trees grow. The world is made richer by Seuss’s language and Greig’s too, with the entire show performed in rhyme. A notable addition was the extended scene of the first customer to buy a thneed, a modern businessmen, speaking on his mobile in rhyme, taking selfies and tweeting about his purchase without breaking any of the rhythm.
The colour and energy in this tremendous production from the Old Vic brings Seuss’s story to life in a extraordinary way that will win the hearts and minds of young and old. The Old Vic, however, has missed a trick by not having the book available, as the message of The Lorax can never be spread enough. But it did make up for this by handing out free seeds after the show, so there will soon be some ‘wild flowers’ growing in the GingerWig’s garden… This is an interesting family show from the point of view of communicating a very important message about the environment within what is largely a piece of entertainment. Well done to Matthew Warchus for putting this together and the entire creative team and cast for a charming show that lost none of Dr Seuss’ message.
Highlight of the show – The Lorax himself: a puppet manipulated extraordinarily by three performers, one of whom is his voice, head and left arm, another his feet and the third his left arm and torso. The puppet steals the show with all his heartfelt entreaties to protect his land.
With December now in full swing, the Ginger Wig and Strolling man pick out their top picks of things to see over the Christmas period!
‘The Wasp’ – this thriller by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm has transferred to Trafalgar Studios after a sold out run at the Hampstead. December 8th – January 16th at Trafalgar Studios – £15 – £30
‘Sleeping Beauty – Matthew Bourne’s gothic imagining of Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet is back on at Sadler’s Wells. December 1st – January 24th Tickets £12 – £65
‘The Lorax’ – Dr. Seuss’ personal favourite, an effective and entertaining environmental tale is reimagined at the Old Vic, with music from Noah and the Whale – there are still £10 preview tickets available! December 4th – January 16th Tickets £10 – £60
‘The Dazzle’ – this play by American playwright, Richard Greenberg, gets its London premiere starring Andrew Scott at a new space in Central St. Martins School of Art. December 10th – January 30th Tickets £10 – £35
‘I Want My Hat Back’ is another children’s book-inspired christmas show. Based on Jon Klassen’s story this is another sure bet for the kids. December 16th – January 2nd at the National Theatre. Tickets £10 – £15
It was with much anticipation that we returned to the Print Room in Notting Hill to witness the second show of their autumn season. Ubu And The Truth Commission is a combination of puppetry, live performance, animation, song and buffoonery that tells the story of Pa Ubu and his culpability during the apartheid era in South Africa and his participation in the hearings of the truth and reconciliation committee. The work was presented as part of Suspense Festival which showcases some of the best new puppetry, physical theatre and narrative performance across London.
The title character is based largely on an earlier work by Alfred Jarry, who created the greedy and infantile buffoon King Ubu Roi. His iconic form, big bellied with a spiral pattern on his tummy and a conical head, appears a lot during the animation and live action. This piece used so many different elements. It is commendable that it never felt disjointed and in fact every layer of performance added more to the piece.
The show is created by Handspring Puppet Company, the South African puppeteers made famous for creating War Horse with the National Theatre, and is directed by renowned South African director, William Kentridge. It is intended to inform and educate us about the the past but it also entertains and inspires. Jane Taylor’s text is guided by William Kentridge to produce a wonderful narrative filled with symbolism, which both delicately and jarringly, trace the course of one high ranking officer and his involvement in the atrocities of apartheid and his response to the setting up of the commission.
Real evidence from the commission is used and delivered in Afrikaans and then translated. The story has features that would have been common to many of the stories heard by the commission. All who came before them faced the immense gravity of a decision whether or not to conceal or divulge evidence. Was their honour greater than their fear?
The puppetry was incredibly inventive with two of the puppets made out of briefcases and bags, able to swallow up evidence, and then a selection of human puppets used to recount evidence at the hearings. Finally, a vulture puppet presides over the proceedings. We wish we had seen more involvement by this puppet.
The imagery and symbolism of the horrors of apartheid were dramatically illustrated by the animation that mixed with real footage and other devised imagery. We were reminded of Terry Gilliam’s animations for Monty Python, possibly an influence on the animators. However, it had its own style using only black and white, a clear reference to race. The spider-like camera tripod, the Ubu Roi character and the dancing cat added dark humour, that contrasted with more graphic imagery.
The acting, voices and manipulation of the puppets had a realism and magic that created a dark world with moments of light. Maybe that was the overriding message that oppression and brutality can be overcome. Furthermore, the use of truth commissions rather than criminal trials and investigation is surely a better route for reconciling polarised communities. Surely it’s a more transforming experience for everyone. Even if some people do sail off into the sunset…
The Print Room has its new venue in the Coronet and although it is crumbling to pieces, the fading grandeur creates a wonderful space to enjoy theatre. The only thing they need to tighten up is audience re-admittance. Whilst some ‘tired’ people left the show, at least three re-entered generally disturbing the audience. On a more positive note, the ‘new’ Print Room, must have one of the best theatre bars in the whole world: it almost feels like you are stepping onto a fully set stage – a gorgeous use of the original stalls space.
More importantly though, great work from The Print Room for getting this exceptional puppet company in. Handspring Puppet Company have created a remarkable piece in its inventiveness, honesty and spectacle using a fantastic combination of forms, for this surreal yet honest examination of South Africa’s history.
Highlights of the show – Far too many: the shower scene coupled with the metaphorical animations, both songs by Ubu and the dogs, Ubu’s final speech for the commission with the unfavorable microphones and the entrance of the life size Ubu Roi.
Low-fi puppetry at the Underbelly! What more could you want? Bruce really is lo-fi. Made of a sponge, this story is a thrilling tale of love and revenge in a space-time continuum.
Perth-based theatre company, The Last Great Hunt, have been going since 2013 and have already performed in Australia, Canada, the United States and the UK this year. Only two of their seven members are responsible for Bruce, giving them the flexibility to perform in all these different countries at the same time.
We meet Bruce in outer space as he tries to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere. Simply with one puppeteer wearing white gloves and the other controlling his sponge head, together they effectively create the effect of Bruce floating around his spaceship, as well as everything else he gets up to in this action-packed hour of far-fetched puppetry . The use of sound helps to build the mood for Bruce as we watch his attempts to get the girl, avoid his one-eyed ex-cop- partner and ultimately have his own baby – Bruce.
The mix of characters was fantastic with the puppeteers providing all the voices to about ten different characters as well as creating all the sound effects within Bruce. Really good happy theatre here – guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Highlight of the show – Bruce’s head floating across stage providing his own backing vocals to Annie Lennox’s ‘Why’.