'Killing Roger' – Sparkle and Dark
Sparkle and Dark live up to their name with 'Killing Roger', a 60-minute leap into the life of a housebound old man that glitters with ethical dilemmas but retains plenty of room for superb dialogue and the odd well-timed joke.
Roger, a grumpy octogenarian who professes to having a "chest like a bomb site" is constrained to his armchair, with brief visits from a carer and a small television set being his only links to the world beyond his cluttered flat. When Billy, an A-level student with a penchant for Plato, starts visiting Roger for a voluntary scheme, a friendship begins, leading to difficult questions about ageing, dignity and the right to die.
Roger himself is an astonishingly realistic human-sized puppet with black, glinting, marble-like eyes. The puppetry is sleek and hard to fault. Both performers wear flat caps and keep their eyes lowered, retaining their gaze on Roger at all times, leading the audience to do the same. The set design has a literary feel, with dozens of books scattered about in a thoughtful nod to the play's dominant theme – Roger's body may be weak but he is strong of mind.
The old man's aged hands, protruding from the sleeves of a beige cardigan, are wrinkled glove puppets, each operated by its own puppeteer. This showcases some impressive coordination from the performers, as each time Roger uses his lighter to spark up yet another ill-advised cigarette, or holds his chest for a booming coughing fit, you are drawn in and believe in this old man, his sad situation and all the mental and physical anguish he is suffering.
Despite the play's solemn subject matter, comedic moments, particularly when Roger plays cheeky jokes on Billy, provide light relief but these are carefully portioned out, so as not to distract too heavily. Live musical accompaniment from acoustic guitarist Lawrence Illsley also enhances key moments and one particularly memorable, sordid piece of music becomes a chilling theme for the most critical scenes.
When Roger places an oxygen mask to his face between cigarette drags, little peeps of surprise sound out across the audience, proving how realistic this character is in his construction, thanks to puppet makers Shelley Knowles-Dixon and Anna Shuttleworth (also responsible for direction/writing and set design, respectively).
Particularly impressive is Sam Buitekant, who operates Roger's head and left arm simultaneously, in addition to providing the puppet with his deep, gravelly voice – extreme multitasking in a demanding role. In addition, Louisa Ashton, Producer and Movement Director, moves flawlessly from her position as second puppeteer to brief acting stints, interacting convincingly with Billy (played energetically by Graham Dron).
Sparkle and Dark may class themselves as an 'emerging' theatre company, but they work together like old pros and 'Killing Roger' is as polished and professionally rendered as it is thought provoking.
Sparkle and Dark's Travelling Players
Little Angel Theatre