The Smoking Puppet Cabaret

Fri 16th November 2012

reviews

George Meredith

at 00:58 on 17th Nov 2012

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The Smoking Puppet Cabaret was something of a mixed bag, ranging from average to amazing in the course of a single evening. Performed at the Wardrobe Theatre above the White Bear, the atmosphere was perfect for a show of this type; cosy setting, beers in hand and spirits high. The show definitely improved over the course of the evening, the second half being much stronger than the first, but the constraints of the space could be taxing on the audience’s patience. It was, however, an overall enjoyable evening.

On walking into the theatre one was greeted by two rather simple redneck girls who interacted with the audience. These two acted as comperes for the evening, introducing each of the four acts, and were consistently loveable and genuine, which gave the show a strong foundation.

The first piece involved two characters choosing someone from the audience (in this case the lovely Juliet) and enacting the three most important moments of her life – birth, the present, and death. This sketch made clever use of projections onto a white sheet, depicting conception, birth and death by dinosaur with effective and humorous simplicity. However, the whole piece felt a little stilted, and the lack of professionalism from the ‘comic’ lead man, whose character was an odd mixture of Papa Smurf and Alan Partridge, was less Acorn Antiques, more excruciatingly awkward. I feel this piece may have ran better later in the programme, once the audience was more on side; as it was, the chummy jokes about the flaws in the sketch felt a little forced.

This was followed by a long scene change, no easy task in the cramped space of the Wardrobe, which was covered by the two redneck comperes. This was possibly the weakest part of the whole show, relying on a bizarre ten minute sequence of a farmer milking a sock puppet cow. It felt, to all intents and purposes, like the twilight hours of a babysitting shift; smiling painfully at the hyperactive kids, longing to raid the cocktail cabinet and make some long distance calls.

Eventually, the next show could begin: Post-Apocalyptic Story Telling presenting 'The Princess and the Pea and the Deep Blue Sea'. This felt like it had potential but a series of technical troubles meant that it never really got going. The interval came as a welcome relief.

The second half was much better. It began with a piece called ‘Monster Chef’ and featured some amazing costumes and puppets. The entire piece was unashamedly crude and immature and brilliant for it, as Chef and Ratty prepared ‘diarrhoea avec un chat’, with poo and wee gags aplenty. The recurring catchphrase ‘That’s how Monsters like it!’ was taken up by the audience into a resounding cheer. The set change was covered by some great improvisation by the redneck girls, including some nice banter about President Obama, which was charming and enjoyable. This was followed by a spectacular show by Finger and Thumb Theatre. One man and two hands made amazing shapes, ranging from a dancing bear to an elephant and a snail, all in time to a beautiful soundtrack. This piece was skilled, witty and brilliantly executed – The best show of the evening.

Overall, the Smoking Puppet Cabaret was enjoyable, especially in the second half, but had the potential to be much better. The constraints of the theatrical space did mean that a fluidity of scene changes was not possible, and there were some unfortunate technical difficulties, all of which created a flat atmosphere. However some exceptional performances, particularly by Finger and Thumb, proved that such a show could work and, with a little improvement in some places, be a great success.

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