Edinburgh Fringe 2015
The Last Great Hunt return with their newest zany adventure. Meet Bruce, the yellow sponge oblong as he recounts his personal story – playing himself and every character he meets along the way. Australian puppetry with absolutely no pretention.
Many companies are beginning to add more and more elements of puppetry and mime into their repertoire. The Last Great Hunt exemplify the extents that the craft holds, with this dazzling display of object manipulation so skilful, you’ll forget what it is you’re actually looking at. Bruce, or a large, cheap-looking yellow sponge with stuck on eyes and a slit for a mouth, is nothing to look at. Nothing about him is realistic, or luxurious. He is not the organic sea sponge from the depths you’d find at your local overpriced independent bathroom shop. In fact, it would not be surprising to find out he was purchased from a 99p store – but none of this is important.
What is remarkable is the sheer imagination of the characters channelled through this magic sponge, created and performed by Tim Watts and Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd, and how it is achieved. Bruce, who’s changes in facial expression or emotive state are only controllable by one line representing his mouth, conveys emotion so wholly and sincerely, that the audience suspends their disbelief before they even realise.
Bruce embraces all the features of a Hollywood action movie with the dry, cynical humour of a low budget indie flick. With nothing on stage aside from the two masterful puppeteers (dressed head to toe in skin-tight black morph suits) and three spotlights, all the action is contained within a playing space of about two metres. Watts, who controls Bruce’s head, also controls all technical elements such as lighting and sound from a small tool belt, whereas Nixon-Lloyd donned in white gloves gives an impression of body and limbs.
The proficiency of these two talented individuals is a extraordinary and mesmerising thing; rarely have I see puppetry so in sync and connected, both contributing utterly to the object’s existence. As we watch the life of Bruce unfold inside the narrowly lit frame, it is as though we are watching a screen filled with all the edits, cuts, and zooms of a suspense-filled blockbuster.
Bruce lives and breathes with the audience, and every recognisable character does so with him. The narrative shifts from cult references to box office smashes, piecing together familiar and clichéd storylines with delightful satire. Both performers provide voices and/or sounds that fill in the picture. Every character clear and detailed, the accents and dialects of Watts spanning continents with flawless precision.
With the irresistible delight of the puppetry, you would think that some liberties might be taken concerning a plot, especially one structured around clichés. This was not the case. The storyline was utterly balanced and well rounded, with sidesplitting comedy, dramatic tension, intelligent wit, and even moments of heart-swelling earnestness. From beginning to end, we are captivated by Bruce the yellow sponge, which could just have easily been any household item, and follow him on his adventures through time and space wholeheartedly.
Saying that The Last Great Hunt is simply a ‘puppetry company’ denies them a recognition they undoubtedly deserve. Their knack for storytelling, combining simple and straightforward design, with relatable and familiar content, concerns the medium of theatre as a whole. Puppetry is a hard nut to crack, and doesn’t appeal to everyone. Many border on the realms of pretention, and ask for a suspension of disbelief that is difficult for many viewers to achieve. Bruce is a puppetry show that has absolutely no air of self-importance – not one single part takes itself too seriously, which is clear from the offset. The accessibility and remarkable skill of this innovative company take a genre that has been placed on a pedestal, and bring it sharply and abruptly down to earth, in order for everyone to share and enjoy. With performances selling out fast, head down to the Belly Button at Cowgate to soak up Bruce’s tale and bask in the immeasurable skill of this truly wonderful show.