The Smoking Puppet Cabaret – Bristol Festival of Puppetry
There's no smoke without fire and, with glamourous stripteases, macabre stunts and magic, the Smoking Puppet Cabaret guarantees a smouldering atmosphere. During a residency for Bristol Festival of Puppetry, evening performances in the Tobacco Factory bar have been so popular that many attendees have sat on the floor or stood for the duration, owing to not enough seats, proving this comedy cabaret showcase is worth getting cramp for!
The show is compered by four actors who claim to be from Blue Blue Peter, a kind of adult version of the popular children's show, with just as much sticky back tape and scissors but with a good dose of double entendres to boot.
First up on the bill, Aya Nakamura of Rouge28 Theatre Company gives a saucy performance as Mademoiselle Lychee – a burlesque humanette (human head with a puppet body), complete with pink underwear that she removes piece by piece to much fanfare. Comical and strangely alluring, this performer shows expertise in angling her face just the right amount with each move, creating a seamless pastiche of traditional burlesque.
We are also treated to two performances from Mufti, a male duo who recreate favourite childhood games on a grand scale. 'Live Hangman' sees a gameshow host ask audience members to guess a mystery phrase, letter by letter. A man's head inside a noose appears from a black curtain, followed by body parts, with one limb for each incorrect guess until an entire humanette puppet appears. The panic on the humanette's face is hilarious, though you feel quite guilty when his limp little body hangs still in the noose at the game's close.
Providing three different performances in one evening, female comedy trio Headstrung – who specialise in recreating classic circus, magic and cabaret acts using marionettes and more – are a treat for fans of vaudeville. An appearance from The Great Throwzini is a highlight, as this knife throwing marionette puppet (with papier-mâché face and silver cape) levitates his blades about the stage, before aiming them at a puppet damsel attached to a target.
Headstrung give beautiful attention to detail, belly laughs and great surprises. Their pole dancing marionette puppet Tequila Rose shows real craftsmanship, as does the human-sized giant beast who tap dances the trio into their final act to the tune of 'Singing in the Rain'. Absurd, hilarious fun.
The shadow puppetry finale involves paper puppet creations made by brave audience members while watching the show. These include a castle with ghostly apparition in its doorway, animals with glaring coloured eyes, a martini glass and some rather rude shadow puppets, which had the late night crowd laughing hard but are now probably best left to the imagination of the reader! Blue Blue Peter worked energetically to create improvised stories using these puppets and the result had me laughing until my throat felt like it was burning.
The Smoking Puppet Cabaret
Bristol Festival of Puppetry