There are some wickedly dramatic concepts – and indeed some unnerving characterisations – that simply wouldn't be as pungent or as thought-provoking if flesh-and-blood actors replaced the cast of puppets.
Neville Tranter's Schicklgruber - Alias Adolf Hitler is a prime example. Here, a weasely, driven Goebbels is a half-torso propped up on a long crutch – a cartoon-caricature appearance that suggests his career path, even his large family, are conceived as proof of absolute manliness. Hitler himself is little more than a mustachio'd white face with glittering eyes and huge white hands – the salient accessories to the grandiose rhetoric he once delivered from behind a lectern. Now, however, those glory days are gone. What does remain is, in Tranter's grotesquely comedic script, exposed as unheroically trivial and self-absorbed.
But if our laughter debunks the bogeymen, Tranter's 90-minute solo tour-de-force – he animates and voices every character – also reminds us of the appalling death and destruction instigated by the Hitler regime. His own persona on-stage is that of Hitler's loyal aide, the only human being – literally – in this bunker, and therefore the only character capable of showing feelings and shedding tears ... History, as we know, is full of manipulation. This outstanding Stuffed Puppet Theatre (Netherlands) production turns the tables with deft manipulation pointing the finger at understains on the fabric of history.
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Even if Yael Rasooly didn't have any of her ingenious props to hand, Paper Cut would still be a hugely enjoyable class act, worth the ticket price for her hot chantoosie singing, her ability to eyeball an audience and keep the impromptu, sassy banter flowing. But Rasooly has a tale to tell, a 1940s Hollywood saga of doomed romance played out through black-and-white photos cut out of old movie magazines. As her character, a buttoned-up secretary, fantasises about the boss she adores, morsels of film scenarios – Rebecca, especially – pop up out of office ledgers, the two-dimensional images a clever front for Rasooly's gloriously over-the-top re-enactments.
If Rasooly's skill lies in delivering high-quality entertainment from a lo-tech scissors and paper approach, the Los Angeles- based Cloud Eye Control frame the element of live real-time performance with flights of visual trickery generated by interactive animations, video work and computer graphics. A programme of three short works highlighted the wow-factor potential of these processes. But while the special effects are imaginatively used the technology remains firmly connected to ourselves: the fantastical dreamscapes we hanker after, the myths that shape those dreamscapes and our tendency to scan the skies and wonder "what's out there?"
A brilliant musical whimsy, part kitsch sci-fi, part moonshine, whisked us into space with such good-natured humour that – like the earlier interaction between a female shadow (live) and the images that spool out of her or the cunning synchronicity that saw a live performer morph into an on-screen machine – it was all too easy to take the slick precision for granted.
After The Wave was the first full-length effort from Physical Theatre Scotland. Lots of eager bodies (from Kirkcaldy's Adam Smith College) ebbed and flowed on-stage, intent on evoking the aftermath of loss both materially and in terms of vanishing memories.
The final section, with semi-transparent puppet-ghosts filtering through the gloom, was well-conceived and delicately effective. But the initial scenes of happy folk being skippingly, waftily happy was over-long and over-egged while the post-disaster scenario was also prone to fussy over-activity. When, however, those plastic-sheeting phantoms drifted in, a degree of believable emotion – the sadness, joy and sense of self that memories embrace – took hold of performances and claimed our attention.