Brighton Fringe 2012
Written and performed by George Williams, directed by Tom Spencer of Fine Chisel, with music by Robin Coward, Ben the Puppet is trying to find his way home.
Williams cut his puppeteering teeth with the highly acclaimed Long Nose Puppets and here we have Ben the puppet (star of "Penguin") lost, trying to find his way home, his only hope a cleaner’s trolley.
This is a signature strength of Long Nose Puppet work. A simple premise, unfussy and Williams has learned that lesson well.
Williams is an endearing soul. He connects with the children immediately, Chaplinesque in his entry through the audience to the stage, chrismatic, warm-hearted, clownish in an intense way. Actually he reminded me of a cross between Chaplin and Peter Falk.
That ability to connect instantly is an important virtue of involving younger children’s theatre. The challenge then is to sustain it over forty minutes or so.
I loved the use of live piano in this show with an original score and I hope they keep it on tour. A recorded soundtrack is never quite the same.
There were ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ in the audience when he worked his sock magic on stage and there’s plenty of visual material here.
One important point is that Willams needs to be aware of stage work taking place below the sight line of the audience and those moments need ironing out.
The arrival of Ben created a sacred, fascinating silence. Ben is visually appealing and instantly likeable, a bit of genius design really, especially the soft face, almost curious, and the vulnerable hands.
George Williams knows his puppetry and brings Ben to life with tenderness and care. Yet it is when the action slows down and we have moments of silent stillness that you really see the children lean forward, gazing wonder.
The singing was a bit strange. Ben mouths the words of the pianist, but not during the harmony with George. Suddenly the magic silence had been broken and didn’t make visual or aural sense. Personally, I wouldn’t have Ben sing. It broke the spell a bit. Let Ben speak through the skilled movement and gesture of the puppeteer. Also in places there’s too much human and not enough puppet, too much George (skilled as a performer though he is in his own right) and not enough Ben. I sense some of the magic inherent in simple, slowed-down-in-fast-world gesture is still locked away. When George brings Ben through the audience and the music slows, the magic is set free and everyone – adults and children – a momentarily captivated
However, there’s plenty to enjoy here, the music is a treat and it synergises beautifully with the live action. Great focus, upbeat and warmly engaging songs, a simple storyline, inventively realised.
Well worth taking your children to.