Brighton Fringe 2010
This is a new show from Long Nose Puppets. It is based on an award-winning book by Polly Dunbar. Ben, a little boy, opens a parcel containing an unmoving, silent penguin. Can he get a reaction?
The story of Penguin centres around a little boy, Ben, who is delivered a parcel which, on opening, turns out to be an penguin. Ben tries to engage the penguin to no effect. It won’t move. It won’t speak. Ben tries various strategies to get it to come to life. He takes it to a doctor and even resorts to firing it into outer space!
All of these episodes become the occasion for sing-along music, audience participation, much humour and plenty of clever special effects.
The genius of this show is that it is all about simple images and the proof that it is children’s imagination that contain all the fuel they need to fire their own creativity and enthusiasm.
There’s so much going on in the show and yet cleverly the focus of the story is anchored to stillness, an unmoving blinking penguin. The whole Freerange down often found itself in almost complete stillness as the audience watched to see if the penguin would finally move or speak, and not just occasionally blink its eyes, a lovely piece of dramatic irony that thrilled many a toddler in the audience.
The songs are beat-based and there’s great variety in the styles of music employed. My personal favourite was Say Something!
Back-lit animations were used to strong effect with hand-crafted, cut-out genius. The child I’d brought to see it loved this aspect and sat in wrapt attention throughout. These were special, special effects, simply made, animated with a hand-made feel, yet also a sense of calm, vibrant imagination and skill.
Sometimes one or two of the episodes become a little to disconnected from the central narrative. The storyteller is a voice that sometimes (this may have been the quality of the soundscaping) sounds too pre-recorded and detached from the live action. Also there is one scene where the boy is swallowed whole by a lion and this image may be a bit of a shock of some children. I certainly didn’t see any tears during the performance I attended, but the swallowing of Ben was done in a bit of a clumsy way compared to other set pieces. It stood out, not for all the right reasons and had a accidentally disturbing rather than designed Dahl-esque quality about it.
The show ends with an affirming message about the importance of friendship. It’s a warm-hearted show, with some wonderful sharp edges that delight rather than scare. It’s done with impressive imagination, and the energetic music is a perfect companion to the narrative, the puppetry is of an excellent standard and there’s an inventiveness and imagination that has resulted in a gem of a show. Highly recommended.