Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Old-fashioned narration, snatches of live folk song and the sheer thrill of seeing everyday things made really, really small combine in this brilliant curiosity of a show from one man and his beautifully painted model theatre. If the tragic-comic story of one man’s journey to the land of the dead and back again doesn’t captivate you, the intricacy of its telling most definitely will.
You’re unlikely to see a more intricate show on the Fringe than this small and strange but perfectly formed offering from Jonathan Storey, part artist, part puppeteer and a very fine tenor to boot. There are model theatres and there are model theatres. And Storey’s is the Hampton Court Palace of the (under-populated) genre, with a wooden picture frame for a proscenium stage front, behind which rows of little metal runners allow him to insert layer upon layer of beautifully painted scenery, some of which can be lowered and elevated on strings.
Into this he carefully feeds the tragic-comic story of Jack Pratchard, who dies in the opening line and is taken to a land of the dead that is both vast and gothic, and so small it will fit into… But we don’t want to spoil the surprise. Suffice to say, Storey the model-maker is clearly tickled by the idea of worlds within worlds. Wearing braces and a pleasantly staid air, he narrates to the occasional accompaniment of a record player, and sings two arrestingly sad folk songs.
This is not the greatest story ever told. There are plot leaks and slow repetitions, and the sheer weirdness of a story in which the souls of the dead start to fill up the gaps in the land of the living (including that space there always is between your wardrobe and your wall – and yes, he’s created a model flap for that too) won’t be to everyone’s liking.
But anyone would revel in the telling, a process on which Storey has gone so all-out that there is even
an attachment that turns into a pub bar, on to which he pegs beautifully drawn pint after paper pint. Like London’s better-known The Paper Cinema, he’s also able to create filmic effects such as close-ups with positioning and lighting.
Our main criticism would be that the use of classical music in the soundtrack doesn’t quite match the very personal creativity that has gone into every other aspect of the show. The crackling record-player lends the intimate air of the living room, which is doubtless where Storey started to make his models. But with that voice he should be singing his own song cycle. A more enticing name is also needed if he and director Sionaid Goody are to pull in the audiences they deserve – Jonathan Storey & His Amazing Pint-Sized Theatre, anyone?