I love the theatre. I love plays, I love devised work, I especially love puppetry, I even love seeing bad shows because they’re very fun to talk about afterwards. But one big bugbear I have about theatre is how quickly shows come and go (apart from the odd show, such as War Horse, which I’ve seen about three times and would happily watch again and again). You maybe have the chance to see it once before either it sells out or the run ends. What I would give to see Handspring Company’s Or You Could Kiss Me again, the show that really tugged that part in my heart that told me I had to be a puppeteer. Luckily, I have the beautiful show burnt into my memory. But to see it again would be a huge treat and I will be forever pining for a revival. So when given the chance to see another beautiful show, a year on, I took the opportunity with both hands and even took someone who hadn’t seen it with me.
That show is The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings at the Battersea Arts Centre, a show brought to us by the Little Angel Theatre and Kneehigh Theatre. I had already seen the show when it was at the Little Angel Theatre, a small, intimate, old but ultimately magical venue, so it was interesting to see the same show in a completely different setting. Of course theatre is not like films or book where the material is the same no matter how many times you return to it (although the experience can be different). Theatre is live and so is subject to an amazing range of variables, which can be pretty scary for a performer let me tell you that. From the very small, like where a performer takes a step or a breathe to the very big such as a change in venue.
However the BAC is certainly a good temporary home for the Very Old Man. The BAC is another old building with a huge amount of character (It also happens to be the home for the Puppet Centre Trust!) and even as you step into the building you can’t help but notice the nets with feathers and crabs clinging onto them, draped like bunting on the staircases a special bit of dressing just foreshadowing the show.
The theatre itself was much bigger than the Little Angel, with a cavernous ceiling and bleacher-style seating. Which means the audience sat looking down on the action which made me feel like I was closer then I was when at the Little Angel. The show felt bigger but not quite so intimate. It’s a fine balance but I feel the BAC achieved it. A different venue also brings a different audience. Instead of an audience full of children as I found with my first viewing of the show, this audience were mostly adult artists and theatre lovers. But I like to think that both audiences felt that lovely child-like fascination.
So yes there were difference between both shows (I think they may have also swopped one of the puppeteers) but it was still the same delightful show that literally made me gasp.
This is puppeteering at its very best. All the characters were alive with their own personality even those who were not fully articulated and are manipulated with a few shakes. Sometimes even the main characters weren’t always completely manipulated. And this is the touch of a true puppeteer. These are people who can make you believe in something with a few simple touches or a careful swing of a leg translates instantly as walking. It is at once incredibly precise and also very playful, inviting the audience to use their imaginations, engaging them further into the piece. They even played with being puppeteers, interacting briefly with their puppets, with each other, without breaking the illusion of the invisible puppeteer they had already established.
But what are amazing puppeteers without amazing puppets, these ones being designed by the legendary Lyndie Wright of the Little Angel. They are beautiful, expressive, enticing and incredibly clever. From the deceptively simple rod puppets to a bike riding puppet. This show is the first I have ever seen that involved a puppeteer using their own mouth to balance a puppet, the puppet being a chicken doing a tightrope walk (these chickens stole the show as well as a mumbling old woman!)
The piece is funny, charming and will quite happily appeal to all ages in a very simple unpatronising way – the holy grail of family theatre. But it has some very tender and heartbreaking moments that show the range of emotions that puppets can draw in an audience.
The piece is backed-up by the beautiful music, which I’m happy to have stuck in my head (seriously WHERE CAN I GET THAT MUSIC!), and the clever set and staging which hides some magical an unexpected entrances until the very right moment.
This is what you want in a puppet theatre. Great design great puppets great puppeteers and great music. I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time
I hope this is a show that keeps on returning. But if not, it has formed a memory that I will take with me as one of those great inspiring puppet shows.
Kneehigh Website – http://www.kneehigh.co.uk/show/a-very-old-man.php
The Little Angel – http://www.littleangeltheatre.com/lat/whatson/forthcoming/MjQy