Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Inventive puppet theatre created by “Theatre of Widdershins” in this original tale of a king cursed with donkey’s ears. Colourful characters, excellent props and a pertinent moral to the story make this show a winner.
This is an excellent puppet theatre storytelling exercise in which a king is asked to judge a musical battle between Apollo and Pan. For his efforts he is cursed by the loser in the form of having donkey’s ears where his human ears used to be. Unable to face the world he locks himself away and wears a hat at all times, even in the bath. However, when his head starts itching he is forced to enlist the help of Luigi, the royal barber, who sees to his hair-clipping needs every two weeks. Sworn to secrecy and in danger of being beheaded if he tells, Luigi becomes ill and depressed, weighed down by the burden of this increasingly heavy secret.
This piece is full of lovely characters and well crafted puppets, with colourful costumes and well chiselled personalities. Set obviously in ‘olden times’, Luigi the Italian barber could well be working in a high street barber shop in modern times, which works for the language of this production too. Apollo loves himself and says he’s “sexy” and the fairy “will surely fancy him”.
The set changes ingeniously from green forest to stone castle in the blink of an eye. Made of fabric, they turn inside out as easily as a jumper. There is a lovely section when the barber’s secret descends down into the ground and a part of the set unfolds showing the geology of the earth, and as we follow the secret down we also uncover the secrets of the earth – a nice touch. Lovely renaissance recorder music provides a fitting accompaniment to the lively action.
The story is well delivered by Andy Lawrence, who is also the creator of the piece. Often he is in the audience in the front row cajoling and creating an intimacy through his narrative in which laughter is an integral tool.
A nice touch were the program notes too, in which the puppet characters are given biographies as if they were real actors. Thus the character of a flute-playing minstrel is “La Fawndah Wheelie-toes”, so called as she rides a unicycle. Luigi, we read, as well as adding “continental flavour to the show” is also the driver and carpenter for the production. It’s an excellent idea as it allows the parents to continue and keep the story of the show alive after it has finished, and there is also a spot the difference exercise on the rear to further engage the child. Rather than a ‘throw-away toy’ this show has longevity and I’m sure the young audience will be thinking about it well after the show has finished.
Like all good stories it has several levels and can be experience as a damn good yarn on the one hand and a mythic and universal tale of what can happen when something wins over its opposite on the other. This is a very thorough production and strikes a balance between laughter and crafted storytelling, with the tale leading way.