In September, 2019, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Festival mondial des theatres de marionettes in Charleville-Mezieres, France. Here are some reviews.
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- Steve Capra
Intranauts comes from Green Ginger (UK) directed by Emma Williams. In this play, woman travels in a large, complex vehicle - a micro-vehicle - inside a man’s body, attending to maintenance. She has her own work load, but he can make requests.
We meet the gentleman in a smoking jacket at the opening, with “Hello”, as he addresses his computer screen, which is a scrim. He speaks an upper class dialect throughout. Then we meet the young lady in charge of his care, who speaks with decidedly lower class diction. She’s a whiz, though, and when an arm comes off she goes into a sort of inter-body space walk to care for it (the puppeteers are handling the vehicle and its appendages). On the way, she bumps into a blood cell and, I think, a virus, but she succeeds.
The central event in the piece is an unexpected malfunction of the vehicle that signals its host’s demise in a-certain-number-of minutes. We watch the electronic display count down as she punches in the code - 7432. He requests that she travel to his brain to see if she can improve his mood - “I feel sad” - and after trying to put it off, she complies. But can she can avert the catastrophe?
Intranauts is great fun, but it’s dated - reference Fantastic Voyage and 2001 - and the actors don’t make much of their roles. The real problem is dramaturgical: there’s no precipitant, no reason that the system should break down today. For this reason the play doesn’t mean anything, and it’s just - well - fun. - Steve Capra September 2019
Old Trout Puppet Workshop (Canada) treats us to a mostly wordless piece called Famous Puppet Death Scenes . It consists of perhaps 16 short, unrelated vignettes in a puppet proscenium, each about two minutes long and each depicting the oh-so-tragic death of a puppet. E.g.: - In a recurrent motif, a poor fellow at the opera is repeatedly pummeled by a huge fist, as much as he tries to avoid it; - An innocent boy is lured into a villain’s home by a lollipop - and eats the evil old man; - Puppets (puppets of what?) on a German game show have to choose the Ja door or Nein door - and either way, the ogre eats them; - In a crowning jewel, an old woman returns home to find her husband’s suicide, so she shoot her self; her son comes home and sees what's happened and then shoots himself; his son comes home and does the same; the old husband comes home and we see that it's all been a trick; the old lady comes to life and sees her living husband and shoots him, an
Photo: Charleville-Mezieres = La potion de reincarnation ( The Potion of Reincarnation ) is a brilliant puppet show from Jin Kwei Lo Puppetry Company (Taiwan), directed by Cheng Chiayin, presented in Chinese. It’s absolutely a masterstroke of puppetry. In Buddhist-Taoist mythology, a soul is reborn only after meeting Old Lady Meng and drinking from her cup of forgetfulness. In this play, a woman is reincarnated three times without finding happiness. The show begins with fingers as shadow puppets, and the sort of classical Chinese music that’s like the sound of nature. But mostly the puppets are small, delicate hand puppets elaborately dressed. The puppeteers dress them on stage with ritualistic, meticulous care. What’s more, there’s intermittent singing throughout. We can see that this is a ceremony . At one point, a puppeteer tosses a hand puppet and another catches it just by just placing his hand under the mitt as it falls. Some scenes are spooky, heavy with shado
Leyly & Majnun , produced by Baku Marionette Theatre (Azerbiajan) is an exquisite marionette opera written by Uzeyir Hajibeyli, one of the great Azerbaijani composers, and directed by Tarlan Gorchu. It sources Western and Eastern musical traditions. Its story is based on a narrative poem written by Muhammad Fuzuli in the 16th century, itself based on a legend centuries older. The story echoes Romeo and Juliette , an ageless tale. The small marionettes are gorgeous, elaborately designed by Tengiz Khalvashi. The music, recorded by two musicians and singers, is lovely and varied, including even something like a march, but most notably graced by a haunting solo female voice, nearly wailing in, I assume, Azerbaijani. The seven puppeteers, in black, are part of the presentation. They sometimes move with slow deliberacy. To call this production a show is to trivialize it - it’s a ritual . The screens upstage are beautiful as well, and the play ends with a projection of cu