'Black Hoods' – Old Watty Theatre Company
The New Diorama Theatre is a modern building of glass and metal beam, located a short walk from Great Portland Street tube. It is here that audiences are treated to ‘No Such Thing’, the first in a (potential) series of nights featuring short plays. The sixth, and final, play of the evening is the puppet show ‘Black Hoods’ by the Old Watty Theatre Company.
It is an unenviable proposition to have the final slot in such an evening, particularly when, as in the case of ‘No Such Thing’, the plays that came before are so uniformly strong. Before the curtain rises on your act the audience has already been treated to an expertly choreographed dance piece, a disarmingly simple wrestling match where one contestant is a chair, and a fine bit of clowning about British sex ed. To stand favourably in such company means that your own work must be very strong: fortunately Old Watty is ready for the task.
Featuring a simple set of a single fold out table, unsteady and thin as an ironing board, the heart of the piece lies in the vividness of the puppetry and the novel idea of making the puppeteers stars in their own rights. Indeed, the puppeteers are the first things introduced to the audience, striding out confidently in full theatre blacks including, of course, the black hoods, clearly inspired by bunraku.
What follows is a series of skits more than a strict narrative, as the puppeteers bicker – even to the point of tearing each other’s hoods off! – and puppet characters emerge and play their own parts. The entire show seems deliberately constructed from the flimsiest material, as if the puppeteers had slipped down the nearest available back alley and cannibalised any detritus they could find.
We see a grotesquely fat woman, roughly carved from pink foam, incompetently courted by a cardboard thief and the puppet table transformed, by the addition of an initially innocuous cardboard box, into a giant, feral dog. While the puppets and scenery are not pretty, they are performed with real love and vitality. The show clearly relishes and takes advantage of its own patchwork nature.
In one scene a puppet reaches for a key prop, only to have the prop (loosely attached to the set by tape) fall onto the floor. The puppet’s reaction is a sort of resigned despair, and the apologetic manner in which the puppeteer then detaches himself to retrieve the prop, while suffering the muttering admonishments of the puppet, got the evening’s biggest laugh.
While the half-finished aesthetic was clearly deliberate, it wasn’t quite taken far enough for it to be really effective: the stage looks a bit messy, as opposed to hilariously DISASTROUS! Yet, while you won’t find any deep meaning or subtlety in the piece, it achieves what it sets out to do: to give the audience a few good laughs.
Old Watty Theatre Company