Brighton Fringe 2011
“Sue Meehan’s stage play brings to life the mind of Lucy. Watch as daydreams merge into nightmares, night becomes day and demons break down the walls of reality. Using Physical Theatre and Puppetry enter the dark world of Lucy’s imagination as she faces the creatures haunting her, in the hopes of seeing the bright side of the moon. Using a mix of reality and fantasy Beyond the Bark will draw you inside this fast-paced, dark and original play. Contemporary themes are given a fairytale treatment, in a show that reminds us that how you face the past is what will shape your future.” Beyond The Bark theatre company have been devising theatre using puppetry, mask and physical theatre since 2007. This newly devised production, The Bright Side of The Moon, has been directed by Claire Jenkins and Emma Fisher.
This piece displays beautifully illustrated silhouettes used for charming shadow puppetry work, intriguing projected images, some high production values and energetic, actor-led animated puppetry. The overall feel of this piece is satisfyingly beautiful, enchanting, charming and delicate. There are none of the tatty production values here that are so often present in Fringe plays. The costumes look as though they have actually been washed for starters…
The attention to aesthetic detail here is good – down to the tear-streaked/scarred cheeks of the main character, Lucy, mirroring the artful markings on the lovely puppet representing the same character. The design of the set and costumes utilises a striking monochrome colour palette, which works well to add to the foreboding and magical tone of the piece. Black seems to effectively represent the shadowy darkness of the deepest recesses of the human sub-conscious, and human pain and suffering. White seems to effectively represent the clinical, frightening and exposing starkness of a psychiatric unit – the white fabric screens reminiscent of a padded cell. The set and costume design is simple, striking and effective.
There are the beginnings here of a really excellent production. Unfortunately, there are two crucial issues which prevent this piece from being a resounding success. The first issue is one that can easily be ironed-out with increased experience, practise and rehearsal – the issue of some obtrusive technical hitches. Shadow distances were often misjudged so that the scale and definition of the shadows didn’t always succeed, puppet cats’ back legs got trapped, and silhouette puppets became misplaced or left carelessly lying around, and some other sound, lighting and visual effects moments went a little askew. The theatrical devices attempted are simple enough in principle but must be perfectly and exactly executed in order to work. The company simply need to practise and perfect their craft – puppetry is a fine art to master, and one that deserves to be mastered in all its complexity.
The second and more problematic issue is one of narrative. The plot explores some worthy themes, but ultimately the storyline bores a little; and the plot feels dull and unsatisfying at times. This is particularly prevalent at the end of the play by which time the narrative feels really unfinished and this is always a frustrating and disappointing feeling at the close of any story. I was left wondering how poignant the story really was, and how much I really cared for Lucy, the protagonist.
The animated actor-led puppets were excellently used. The child puppet of Lucy was both haunting and charming, and manipulated to perfection by the actor. I love the way the actor plays the child’s voice with no hint of patronising squeaky voice, nor any condescending portrayal of childhood. Sadly, all seems to go downhill for this character when she ‘grows up’. The charm and interest is lost somehow and the story begins to lose its grip on the audience.
All actors have good, strong vocal quality and projection; the challenging acoustics of this performance space were dealt with very well. There are the beginnings of some engaging characterisations, and in particular in the two characters portrayed by Moira Brady, whose stage presence is at once comical, sensitive and believable. Sadly though, the grown-up Lucy seems a much more one-dimensional, clichéd character. The singing too from this performer doesn’t work somehow, or at least perhaps it does when she is portraying Lucy the child, but not at all when Lucy the adult is encountered. There are some issues with tuning and tone.
Overall all though, this is a charming and entertaining piece of work; with much going for it, and clearly a lot of hard work and thought put into it. I hope that Beyond The Bark keep exploring their evident creativity and sense of aesthetic, style and tone; and I hope they keep striving for the excellence that seems so within their grasp.