'The Man Who Wasn't There & Other Stories' - Genius Sweatshop
Genius Sweatshop is an emerging company of circus performers, puppeteers and design graduates that aims to create imaginative physical performance driven by narrative and design. In this double bill they approach two stories that address the frailty and loneliness of male protagonists.
In ‘Charly and Fay’ two slightly apologetic lab technicians (Rachel Warr and Alison Alexander) measure our heads with calipers as we enter the theatre, an idea that seems only obliquely connected to the piece that follows. We are left in silence to consider the set: a crumpled suspended sheet, a couple of coat hangers, a small cardboard flat and a maze for a lab mouse.
Marionette Charley is introduced through a video animation sequence which, while stylish, does little to convey the narrative or engage us in the story. The following scenes between Charly and his neighbour Fay are badly written. The performances and puppetry remain ungrounded and only briefly spark to life in Charly’s cliff edge moment on a fire escape. There is some sensitivity here and the germs of good ideas but the basics of story, character and atmosphere all need unlocking as the audience is left bemused.
The second half of the double bill - ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’ - is more successful in creating a coherent world. Albert (Teele Uustani), a full size puppet of an elderly man, is moving house for the last time and is surrounded by boxes filled with his memories. This is the stuff of cliché but happily the two removal men (circus specialists Ludo Helin and Will Davis) take us dynamically to a different plane of performance as they move through slick transitions into hugely physical evocations of Albert’s memories of being at sea.
The narrative is not sufficiently nuanced, and Albert’s voice (heard through recorded voice over) could be explored further, but there is physical virtuosity, commitment and a spark of dynamism. Sadly, the puppet Albert fails to find his rightful place at the heart of the story and the whole needs re-focusing more clearly.
'The Man Who Wasn't There & Other Stories' by Genius Sweatshop played at Jackson’s Lane, London