This was a show I had long anticipating seeing having first come across some information about its development on the Blind Summit website during research for my critical paper 'Why Use A Puppet' and the concept design project Deep Heat. I had been particularly interested in this piece for two key reasons, it was puppetry specifically for adults which feels quite rare in the UK and was developed as a Verbatim piece which again linked it deeply with Deep Heat and my own notions around staging this through puppetry. It proved a popular piece with tickets virtually sold out a few weeks before, so I was lucky to get one of the last remaining seats.
The New Diorama Theatre is a small, quirky intimate venue which supports small scale and emerging work. It was well suited to this piece being a collaboration with The Royal Central school of speech and drama. I was not put off by the link with students rather than a fully fledged professional production however what was frustrating was the 'double bill' programming. The Citizen Puppet show it turned out was a 30 minute piece (unfinished) post interval following a rather gruelling 85 minute play 'Patience'. This exasperation at having to wait so long to see the show I had actually come to see, and this was even further aggravated by technical difficulties which meant the show did not start until 9.40! This felt very late to begin a show and it was hard not to be distracted by the looming, last train home.
Luckily despite the time issue the actual show was fantastic and gave me so many things to think about in regards to my research both past and present. The thing for me that I loved the best was the way they made no disguise about this being puppetry and live theatre. It even openly laughed at itself and made deliberate attempts to play with what could be naff conventions such as set floating in and out and the puppets having to be sat on tall stools. The tall stools were in fact a stroke of genius. They allowed the puppeteers to easily manipulate the figures at a comfortable height, there was no need for large built set pieces, the stage could be easily changed, cleared and transformed and actually the puppets looked comfortable and at home. It really worked hard to make this feel and seem normal and succeeded.
On reading the published material on the show I had almost wondered whether there was a mistake/typo in the phrase 'using verbatim dialogue collected from puppets'. But as soon as the piece started it all made sense and was indeed very clever. So these were puppets posing as being real living puppets with a life and a town, again like this was totally normal and they were totally normal. They were all retelling a story as if they were truly verbatim voices from real people about a real situation and yet the situation was that of a fairytale. I loved this concept, the way the puppets spoke directly to us as an audience and quickly gained our engagement. Interestingly there was immediately a very different atmosphere in the theatre from the previous show, we relaxed, there was easy laughter, it was playful, the subject became increasingly dark and yet we were constantly entertained.
Characterisation was the key to the success of this show. The look of each puppet was highly unique to a particular character, with similarities in structure such as the mouth mechanism and yet not even a uniform scale. Some were bigger than others some had oversized heads and yet they all seemed to match. They were obviously contemporary and reminiscent of characters we have all seen in real life or represented on TV. The way each spoke and moved had been honed with thought and accuracy, considering deliberate hand gestures, spoken accents/articulation and general body language. Some inevitably worked better than others with the policeman character obviously standing out as the most funny, over the top and yet believable character. They were all exaggerations of course and yet this worked in the realm of puppetry because these funny characters were coming to life like a satiric cartoon before us.