The Smoking Puppet Cabaret

Fri 2nd March 2012

reviews

Chelsey Stuyt

at 09:21 on 3rd Mar 2012

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It’s Friday night and 'The Smoking Puppet Cabaret' is back with a vengeance! A series of eye-popping performers showcased the diversity and ingenuity of modern puppetry. From the Tesco in Coventry to a psychedelic jazz club with the Ape Baby on the tom toms, it was an evening of light-hearted fun for all the “boys” and “girls”.

The cabaret was presented by Gongoozler, a local Bristol improvised puppetry group that made a splash at The Wardrobe theatre's season launch party last year. Decked out in eye-jarring 80s duds, they kept the audience laughing between sets with their throwback to Blue Peter.

First up was Adam Fuller from Pickled Image with his touring act, "Grandad". Dressed in full ninja kit, Adam magicked the audience with his puffy, Henson-esque puppet with a faulty memory. This was improvised comedy on a puppet scale and boy was it slick. Even his reparteé with the audience was seamless and this interaction made a real connection with the audience. The puppet's final thanks felt so genuine that a few audience members "aww'd” in return. But things quickly returned to their anarchic mood during his post-performance interview where he hit on “Mary”, a bearded, skirted member of Blue Peter much to the delight of the crowd.

Next up, from Northampton, was Finger and Thumb Theatre. Bringing us back to the good old days, this was shadow puppetry at its best. Using only one pair of hands, the performers created birds, wolves, rabbits, turtles, a camel, a very spry crab, and even a pair of talking heads - much to the delighted amazement of the crowd. Regressing to your six year-old self was mandatory, and the audience couldn’t help but clap their hands with delight after each animal left the scene.

Little Ray was up next with her native New Yorker puppet, "Andrea Della Miko" – a match.com veteran ready to take down any ‘real man’ she comes across. Luckily for her she finds "Fred" (previously known as "Mary"). The characterization was strong, though the puppet seemed like Bert and Ernie’s desperate cousin.

The last main act was by our home grown puppetry talent of Wattle and Daub Figure Theatre. Using traditional hinged shadow puppets and a projector, they told the story of a romance between the oldest man in the world and "Joe", an even older singer at a jazz club. However, the highlight was a can-canning chorus line of ape-babies. Don’t ask, just go with it. Trust me, it was brilliant.

After a 45 minute interval we were back with Blue Peter’s improv show. During the break they had the audience create shadow puppets of their own and their session was spent improvising scenes from a box. While this was definitely the least slick of the evening’s performances, it got the most laughs. The most impressive of which was Matthew Whittle's vocal talents ranging from an old woman to a love-lorn octopus. By the end, the audience was in full-on joy mode and the evening ended on a high as a puppet met his grisly end - death by giant penis in the ear.

It was an unforgettable night.

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