Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Box Tale Soup have produced a real winner in this exquisitely crafted mix of acting and animation in a refreshingly simple but enchanting take on one of Shakespeare’s best loved comedies.
Take a wander away from the crowded chaos of the big venues and you can usually find a top quality production tucked away at the bottom of a side street performing to a small, but extremely appreciative audience.
And Greenside’s Infirmary Street venue looks like it’s found a real winner with Box Tale Soup’s innovative take on one of the Bard’s best known comedies. Using a combination of puppetry, mime, acting, music and a bit of the physical thrown in for good measure, two actors (the very talented Noel Byrne and Antonia Christophers) and five puppets somehow combine to play around twenty or so parts with complete conviction, getting what is a labyrinthine plot (with about four sub-plots running as well at any one time) across to an audience that ranged in age from about five to well into bus pass status.
With two actors able to manipulate a puppet each (two at a push if the other actor needed to have free hands), you could really only get up to four characters on stage at any one time which presented a technical challenge given Shakespeare’s proclivity for busy scenes. But some very clever editing combined with seamless costume changes, character flipping and puppet swopping on set kept the storyline moving, the audience engaged and the whole thing believable.
And the puppetry was superb – the fact that the puppets were the size of the average ventriloquist’s dummy allowed even the most subtle animation to be picked up anywhere in the theatre. The characterisation (both of puppets and the parts taken by the actors) was also perfectly delineated with accent, body posture, costume and, on a few occasions with music and lighting effects.
Box Tale Soup design and make their own puppets and each is a work of art, shaped and clothed in the character it plays, with an operable mouth for dialogue and arms and legs that the puppeteer can use to bring to it to life. Covering Puck, Bottom, Thisby, Hermia and Lysander means the key elements of the various plots can be articulated through this quintet, with the actors playing the remaining roles.
In MSND, the best, of course, is saved until last with that terrible sketch that is the lamentable tale of Pyramus and Thisby. Now, the chance to ham it up through “bad” acting always gives thespians the chance to really play to the audience. Chuck in puppets and you can bring a whole new dimension to this end piece and with some wonderfully overboard animation, this quite charming production reached a hilarious climax to the obvious delight of their attentive audience.
As usual, there’s a bucket load of folks parading A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Fringe with versions for teenies, tweenies, inbetweenies and hasbeenies. But nothing, I would venture to suggest, quite like this enchanting and beautifully crafted production from Box Tale Soup which comes highly recommended, whatever age you are.