A puppet show is one thing; an opera performance is quite another. So puppet opera? There was no way I could not go and see this triple bill at the Rosemary Branch Theatre: the idea massively intrigued me, and my instincts were correct – it was quirky, original and marvellous.
Dedicated puppet opera company Third Hand have created these three pieces, which are co-directed by Darren East and Stuart Baker. The first, Master Peter’s Puppet Show, presents a Punch and Judy-style show performed in a box, purporting to be the work of a bunch of seventeenth-century wandering players, and narrated by one of their number in a breathless style. The tale itself is the story of a kidnapped maiden rescued by her lover, and is interrupted at intervals by a gentleman sitting in the front row who we eventually discover is the legendary Don Quixote. The piece is, in fact, taken from Cervantes’ novel, and Don Quixote himself is wonderfully played by Benjamin Cahn.
The second piece couldn’t be more different. Angela, an Inverted Love Story is a new work from Corin Buckeridge based on a short story by W.S. Gilbert. It tells of a disabled artist, confined to his room overlooking a Venetian canal, who falls in love with the young woman living opposite. Singers Anthony Harris (as a gondolier) and Rosie Bell (as the young woman) are both excellent, and both the puppetry and the clever, beautiful design of the piece are simply superb.
The final production was, again, wildly different, being a performance of Stravinsky’s little-known piece Renard. The set, a restaurant kitchen with cast members dressed as chefs and waitresses, confused me at first – where were the puppets? Actually, in what struck me as a stroke of genius, the cast made the puppets themselves out of ordinary things lying around the kitchen – Renard the Fox was formed of a hunk of ham and some sacking, his enemy the Cock was a rubber glove and a plucked chicken, the Ram was a mop and the Cat was a selection of pans. This madcap set-up worked brilliantly and made the fable wonderfully entertaining.
This was one of the most fascinating, entertaining and original evenings I’ve spent at the theatre in a while. I would love to see some more puppet opera – I’m glad that the Suspense Festival is about to begin so I can check out some more puppet shows.