The Table (Traverse, 3rd Feb ’16) part of the Manipulate visual theatre festival

Edinburgh, UK. 17/08/2011. Fringe First winners, Blind Summit, present "The Table", starring Moses, the Bunraku table puppet, who is ably assisted into being by Mark Down, Nick Barnes and Sean Garratt. Photo credit: Jane Hobson

“One of the most wonderful performances I have ever witnessed”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

One table, one puppet, three men, no strings. And one of the most wonderful performances I have ever witnessed.

While it might seem quite basic, this spectacular puppet show (which could also be classified as stand-up comedy – more on that later) is a tour-de-force in keeping theatre simple yet incredibly effective. Within seconds, the carefully constructed cardboard face and cloth body became an intriguing old man whose every word and movement held me completely captive. And for a show an hour long, that’s no mean feat for something with no pulse.

The puppet began by introducing us to his table – his home – pointing out the garden, his vegetable patch, and where it might be extended to grow more carrots. All the while, he kept us entertained with witticisms most comedians would be proud of, and a dash of audience interaction to keep us all on our toes. And it’s all delivered so naturally, I was completely transported into the world of the table.

Yet while the slow and sometimes inappropriate ponderings of a confused old man were a delight in themselves, the crux of the performance lay in its original purpose – to retell the story of Moses’ saving of the Israelites and his eventual death on the mountainside. In this guise we see him humble, we see him angry and we see him defeated. We see him battle against the elements and lie down to sleep (which is far more difficult for a puppet than it may be assumed). And when he finally leaves the table, I genuinely felt lost and upset to say goodbye. Perhaps this says something about my childish tendencies, but the sell-out crowd of all ages seemed just as moved as I was.

The hands and voice behind this masterpiece – Nick Barnes, Mark Down and Sean Garratt – lovingly move every centimetre of the puppet with precision in care, and always in sync, down to their own breathing. What was particularly enjoyable about their roles were the playful and apparently improvised moments of the show, where the performers joked with and challenged each other to keep up with the pace. At one stage the poor puppet’s hand fell off, probably by accident, but this was covered and managed very well, even if the performers found themselves creasing up with infectious laughter.

About two minutes in I was hooked and thought this show has the potential to launch itself into my top ten favourite things I’ve ever seen on stage, and by the end it had firmly secured its place. Simply masterful.

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 3 February)

Go to The Table at Manipulate and Blind Summit

VisitVisit Edinburgh49’s  Traverse archive.

‘The Lives of the High-Rise Saints’ (Summerhall: 10 – 12 Oct ’13)

 agata-spektakl-sma.preview

Image by pawlowicz.art.pl

“Anyone who has worked on a DIY project will know that there are always bits left over, and this is the starting point of Ameijko’s work. God’s work took six days and on the seventh day he rested – but on the seventh day the flotsam and jetsam from creation gathered together in a tower block.”

Editorial Rating: Unrated 

The Lives of The High-Rise Saints brings a wide range of disciplines to the Summerhall stage. This one woman puppetry show from Agata Kucinska reaches into the reject pile of society to examine the inner strength that people can find to get through their lives.

Many of the visuals are slightly twisted away from the norm, and the inventiveness behind the design is a delight to see. The performance is a technical tour de force that uses everything from very small rod puppets through to larger human-arm puppets, and even Kucinska donning a mask and puppet limbs to physically take on one of the roles herself.

The story itself, adapted from the work of the same name by Poland’s Lidla Amejko, is both dark and challenging. Anyone who has worked on a DIY project will know that there are always bits left over, and this is the starting point of Ameijko’s work. God’s work took six days and on the seventh day he rested – but on the seventh day the flotsam and jetsam from creation gathered together in a tower block. Trusting only in themselves, they scrape out a living at the fringe of society, a motley band of wastrels, tortured souls, and dubious morals, sharing the tales of their lives with each other and the audience.

On the surface there is little to love about these characters. Rejected by the rest of the world, it is very easy to gloss over them on stage and write them off, but this slow burn of characterisation through individual vignettes is countered by the love and energy Kucinska brings to the stage. You approach each character with trepidation and an almost grotesque curiosity before slowly being pulled into their world.

It’s backed with an inventive live sound-scape that mixes foley effects and music to highlight the sadness of this world. This contrasts well with the small moments of joy each character has to look for to break the monotony of their life with brief bursts of joy and satisfaction.

You need to make that journey to appreciate the small moments that make their lives bearable, but the experience and repetition as the script moves through the roll call left me with a sense of exploitation and horror. This is not an easy performance to watch, but it is layered, thoughtful, and has much to say.

Technically Kucinska has mastered the many facets of puppetry used throughout the show, but with the grotesque nature of the characterisation it becomes hard to connect with the characters. This is not aided by the tone, which is almost oppressive in its darkness; while this accurately reflects the world the characters inhabit, it inhibits investment in their plight and results in the show failing to realise its potential to truly captivate the audience’s attention. Dark can work if enough empathy can be created, but the various elements of the show never quite clicked together, resulting in a somewhat disjointed experience.

Everyone in life is dealt some rubbish cards and the occupants of the tower block know just how weak their cards are but they make the best of the trying circumstances and show a great resilience of spirit in the face of depression and hostility. There is a lesson in there for all of us.