Edinburgh Fringe 2012
An unusual, hilarious and poignant puppet show performed by a puppet operated by three men who create a genuinely human and self-consciously ironic character. The material occasionally drifts focus but the semi-improvised style gives it a freshness and real-life quality.
‘This is me, a puppet, on a table.’ So begins the puppets monologue and personal journey of his life and work as a puppet. ‘It really is just me, a puppet, on a table.’ And it really is. One does wonder at the beginning how long this can engage, but it is thankfully made easy due to the charm and wit of the puppet and the skill of the operators.
On the bare, black stage is a cheap table. On walk three men dressed in black and place a Japanese style ‘Bunraku’ puppet on the table, which leave the puppeteer(s) unhooded and fully visible. The puppet has a large head and small body that the men operate with rods. One on the feet, one on the arm and bottom and one on the other arm and head, who also does the talking for the puppet. Once one accepts this premise, one accepts the puppet as real. Immediately the puppet starts scuttling around on the table, looking over the edge as if trapped, then he comes to a stop, looks knowingly at the audience and begins his monologue.
He tells us about his life as a puppet for 40 years, and how he was asked to play Moses in a 12 hour epic. He explains the method and science the operators are using, he interacts with the audience, particularly a woman he flirts furiously with and who later comes on stage, causing a hilarious furore.
The unyielding charm of this piece is obviously in the puppet, as there is nothing else. The gruff voice works perfectly with his sharp angled features, and his spindly limbs seem comically inadequate. From the beginning it is easy to empathize with him as the illusion of a living entity is constantly made, undone and tested in the viewer, but as he states, the trick is in the focus, with it on the puppet alone it is easy for the brain to suspend reality and accept him as temporarily living. Of course, it would not be much of a show if this was not the case, but such is the confidence of the puppeteers that this is played with throughout.
I don’t know if it was the night I went but there were times it felt like they were thinking of what to do next, with the puppet simply standing there helpless, as if thinking himself. The show was at its funniest for me when the puppet got agitated, or his fragile existence tested. He was poignantly aware of his temporary existence, and as he went off on tangents kept coming back to this.
This is a wonderfully simple and beautiful piece of theatre in its own right though I do feel the semi-improvised script felt a little thin and got lost in places, and that more could have been done in terms of action. But the elegance and humour of the puppet is undenied.