27 January 2023
FAMOUS PUPPET DEATH SCENES (Barbican) Review
This show from The Old Trout Puppet Workshop is a skilful combination of puppetry and mime. The production is made up of 25 or so individual vignettes, around 17 of them depicting puppets dying in a deliciously horrible assortment of ways. Some of the characters and death instruments even come back later in the show, thus providing some hysterical continuity.
Louisa Ashton, Teele Uustani, and Aya Nakamura are all fantastic puppeteers and mimes. I won’t get into specifics so not to ruin the show, but between all the tongue action (you’ll see what I mean), and running with scissors, it’s an absolute riot.
The best part of the show is that it’s not just funny puppets dying in funny ways; it’s actually well-thought out comedic sketches. When one of the puppets hangs himself (not really a spoiler), and his grandfather comes into the room, doesn’t see the legs hanging off the ceiling, and walks past, the legs are lowered a bit so he has no choice but to bump into them.
For all the laughters and delights, there were a fair few things about this production that nearly spoiled the show. Well, not the production itself, but the set and how it was set up at Barbican’s Pit Theatre. Firstly, the main puppet stage has 2 curtains on each side. Black boards were placed next to each curtain extending into the wings. However, there was a sizeable gap on each side between the curtain and the board, which meant that those sat at just the right angle could see behind the curtain, as it were, thereby taking away some of the magic. Secondly, the side curtains were translucent, which means we could see shadows of the puppeteers moving behind the set, which, again, took away from the illusion. Lastly, there were 4 or 5 times during the show when the puppets walked or raised their hands behind the main “stage”, and the puppeteers’ hands were visible in a way that suggests this wasn’t intentional… Perhaps the stage was lower than usual, but it definitely didn’t look like something you’d expect from puppeteers as skilled as these three.
I was slightly disappointed that, once the show was over, it was over. When I saw “Portofino Ballad” (a puppet show from Peter Rinderknecht) in the same theatre in 2013, he came back to the stage just after the show finished and let people have a look at the puppets as the audience exited, answered some questions (informally; I know there was a proper Q&A after one of the performances), and let people take photos of him with one of the puppets. Perhaps it wasn’t fair for me to expect this, but it would’ve been nice.
Regardless, it was an evening full of laughs, and I hope everyone who sees the show enjoys it as much as I did.
Cheapskate enjoyment value: £13.