Take a group of top-flight musicians, put them together with another group of top-flight puppeteers in order to ‘re-imagine’ and stage the work of a top-flight composer in a beautiful public theatre lit only by candles. It should not be surprising to learn that the result is an unforgettable theatre experience. Nevertheless it is a surprise that it has been done with so many glowing reviews from the major critics and with so many full houses: this is high-profile stuff.
The musicians occupied the gallery above the stage, using baroque instruments and playing a curious but mostly recognisable version by Max Richter of the familiar Vivaldi music. This was the only spoken text, interpreted by an ethereal ensemble of graceful humanoid figures, with very little props or scenery. The figures told a slight story of a ‘family’ and its adventures which left much to the imagination of the spectator. The figures performed on a circle of segmented tables with iridescent tops, and the puppeteer-operators manipulated them within, around, above and below the circle. The configuration of the tabletops changed constantly, seeming to represent mountains, rivers, forests. Everything was expressed through the puppets’ subtle, precise movements.
The aesthetic was that of a pale natural prehistoric or post-apocalyptic world in constant motion, blending dream and reality in a story about a young family struggling to survive. (That’s only my interpretation – there are others). The figures are stripped of clothes and even features, but they hold the attention of the spectators so that they hardly notice the two or three puppeteers manipulating them. This manipulation is of the very highest order, and perhaps only an aficionado can recognise the expertise, the long rehearsals, the sensitive response to the music and the imaginative direction which have combined to make this beautiful piece of theatre.
The artists responsible are Toby Olié and Finn Caldwell, directors of the show and of the company Gyre and Gimble; the puppeteers Craig Leo (an associate of the Handspring Company of Cape Town), Ben Thompson, Avye Leventis, Elisa de Grey and John Leader, with puppet supervison by the incomparable Daisy Beattie.
The solo violin and Music Director was Jorge Jimenez whose instrument’ s tone was simply heavenly: rounded and rich.
Anyone with an interest in new theatre and of course the development of puppetry would be mad to miss this production, which runs until April 21st. Regrettably for the Globe this is one of the last to be chosen for the theatre under the artistic leadership of the great Emma Rice. We raise a toast to her continuing success.
Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié for Gyre & Gimble
Set and Costume Design
Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié
Music Arranger & Supervisor
Elisa De Grey, John Leader, Craig Leo, Avye Leventis, Ben Thompson, Swing Puppeteer: Hugh Purves
Solo Violin / Music Direction
Viola / Violin
Harpsichord / Synthesizer
'It should not be surprising to learn that the result is an unforgettable theatre experience'
Runs till saturday 21st April