'The Red Balloon' – String Theatre
Accessed as it is via an underwater tunnel from Greenwich and by its very name, The Isle of Dogs seems to promise strange and fantastical experiences. In practice, sadly, it is merely another clean, quiet, new suburb of ever-expanding London. Yet in The Space, an old church now converted to a performance venue and social hub, some of that promise is kept, particularly when the lights go up on the puppet show 'The Red Balloon'.
'The Red Balloon' is the work of String Theatre, a small company consisting of puppeteers Soledad Zàrate and Stan Middleton. Both Stan and Soledad cut their teeth while working at The Puppet Barge, explaining their familiarity and comfort with wooden marionettes, the method by which the play is brought to life.
Inspired by a famous short film by French director Albert Lamorisse, 'The Red Balloon' tells a story as familiar as childhood. While walking down the cobblestone avenues of his hometown, a young boy chances upon a red balloon floating despondently from a lamppost. Untying the balloon the boy is delighted to find it is very much alive, and now very much his best friend. The two begin to explore both their hometown and their newfound friendship, while all about them an increasingly hostile world conspires to bring their happiness to an end.
As unapologetically romantic in its storytelling as it is unapologetically traditional in its presentation, 'The Red Balloon' is a delight. Using a large but impressively mobile stage (the whole three metre high construction can be set up by the two puppeteers in under three hours), String Theatre have devised a show that, by its very silence and simplicity, can be staged nearly anywhere. The marionettes are appealing and well manipulated, the sets detailed with just a hint of impressionist brush stroke, and the lights suggest the gentle passing of time during one of those timeless days of childhood.
Only during certain middle passages, when the boy meets a chimney sweep and balances delicately across a washer-woman’s line, do I start to feel that narrative progression is being replaced by marionettes doing tricks. Yet, judging by their reaction, the younger members of the audience certainly find much to enjoy during these scenes. A quiet, contemplative, bittersweet and even mysterious production, 'The Red Balloon' has much to offer family audiences.
'The Red Balloon'