The Seas of Organillo (Traverse: 4 Feb.’14)


The Seas of Organillo is a birthing pool for puppets.”

Editorial Rating: Nae Bad

From above – and occasionally in – The Seas of Organillo master puppeteer Stephen Mottram manipulates a biosphere of his own making. In a general Wiki sense a biosphere is a closed, self-regulating system containing ecosystem(s) – ‘including artificial ones’. There you have it: a puppet show that is deeply immersed in itself as a creative process. Highfaluting? Not at all, once you’ve seen it, heard it, and come up for air.

The electro acoustic score is vital and accompanies the whole work rather like an evolutionary agent. Mottram explains its genesis after the show (and on YouTube). He brings on the organillo, a small hand-turned barrel organ, that he built himself over four months out of his old wardrobe, drain pipe, lining paper, and B & Q. Each cylinder roll provides eight minutes of music but multiple recordings of the whole clicking, bubbling, breathing, box provide the soundtrack. There is no speech. Call it organic, obviously.

There are seashore calls and off-shore waves but nothing on-shore. On the surface the seas support a couple out rowing but it is only a couple of turns around the bay before they’re gone and a swimmer comes into view. More homunculus than human, a tiny ET in a cycle helmet, really; for, says Mottram, “I liked the poetic idea of swimming creatures somewhere between fish and people”. Whatever they are, they love the sea – and each other, which is kind of the point.

The Seas of Organillo is a birthing pool for puppets. It is sex under water for little, primitive, humankind and as such it is both innocent and fascinating. You see a bubble of life-giving air rise to the (invisible) surface; hands move and stroke each other in deep space; an egg floats free. Sperm penetrates the egg and – as with a multiplying shoal, more or less – cell division begins, a womb is formed and new angelic life begins. Up top, Mum and Dad now row into sight with an infant in tow.

So much, so familiar in biological terms but the puppetry is something else. There are a lot of puppets in The Seas of Organillo and they are often moving alongside automata – “sexy machines”, Mottram calls them – to help create the liquid, holistic illusion. Occasionally I couldn’t figure it out: the triffid-octopus like ‘thing’ of a fallopian tube; the egg eating clam; the stripping-off of colourful layers from around the fertilised egg – but then, after the show, I read the helpful hand-out that I should have read before I went under.

I’m a pretty poor hand at keeping fish. They survive but without much support. In The Seas of Organillo, first conceived  around 1998-2000,  Stephen Mottram has made puppets akin to biotechnology. Probably a first.


nae bad_blue

Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 4 February)

Visit Stephen Mottram’s  homepage here.