Saturday 14 January 2012

Naked execution

The Table, Soho Theatre, London

Blind Summit’s, The Table, might be billed as a puppet show, but it also includes mime, stand up comedy, dance, surrealist art and silent moves. It is the theatrical equivalent of pic n mix. Sure, there might be a few dodgy treats and it doesn’t exactly make for a substantial feast, but there are still some tasty gobsmackers in here.

The opening, puppetry section is nakedly simple in execution. Three puppeteers control a pint-sized bunraku puppet, which has a head made of countless cardboard shapes and a saggy bean bag for a body. The puppet stands on a bare table, amidst basic lighting and minimal theatrical effects. On first glance, it seems a peculiarly pared down affair.

The puppet, voiced by the endearingly gruff Mark Down, repeatedly announces his intention to re-enact the last 12 hours of Moses’ life. It is going to be a Biblical show, an epic show, a blooming theatrical puppet extravaganza. But the show never happens. Instead, the puppet continues to make his tiny table space only smaller still. He marvels at its corners. He paces out is measurements. He frowns at the table’s shadowy and unknown underside.

This obsession with impossible exits all sounds a bit Beckettian but The Table is not a heavy-going affair. The puppet interacts crudely with the audience (‘I can change all my parts!’) and shows off his greatest tricks, sliding and skating across the table. The surrealist edge does gradually sharpen, as a silent girl enters the stage space and cruelly ignores our cardboard friend. They do a number of kaleidoscope coloured dances together and, contrasted with the frank humour (and quiet pathos) of the opening section, it feels out of place.

The stage is then transformed into a free floating gallery space, with three picture frames hanging centre stage. The world behind these frames is exhilaratingly fluid; tiny body parts flutter through the frames, heads jilt about independent of their bodies, clouds sink and feet jiggle. It’s like going to a Magritte exhibition, whilst hideously drunk, and it’s damn good fun.

The Table closes with a theatrical silent movie, told entirely using sketches on paper, as strains of Elgar boom proudly overhead. Again, the trick here is in the limitations of the materials used. Despite the earnestness of the soundtrack and the cigarette-puffing performers, the sketches are consciously crude. Birds are represented by tiny flicks of the pen. People’s expressions are simple lines and dots. It’s like a kids’ show translated by a bunch of pretentious, French artistes.

But the constant undercutting does allow this company a few too many easy ways out. Though viscerally entertaining, the structure and atmosphere feel vague and the sketches don’t really tie together. Next time, I’d love to see Blind Summit have faith in their story-telling, hide their strings and really let their performances fly.

Till 21 January 2012


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