'Munch and Van Gogh' – Ulkrika Quade Company
Fine art, fame and talk show absurdity combine beautifully in 'Munch and Van Gogh', a unique homage to the two great artists, created by Amsterdam's Ulrike Quade Company and a number of Scandinavian collaborators.
With a simple set including a small white stage, shaped much like a coffin, the show begins with an introduction from an eccentric talk show host in puppet-form who, complete with floppy hair, baggy shirt and a penchant for the word "radical", promises Munch and Van Gogh will soon appear.
The concept is pleasingly original – the deceased talk show guests have been cloned and shipped in crates from Singapore to appear on the show especially for our entertainment. They have little knowledge of their own deaths and seem confused and unwilling to stick to the talk show format.
These two titans of the art world are both represented through life-sized figures with faces that bear a convincing resemblance to the real deal. Other puppets, such as the talk show host and a famous art critic guest, are similar in form yet much smaller, allowing for quick overall control. All the show's puppets are operated and voiced by two energetic puppeteers who also serve as characters in the show, taking on a kind of personal assistant role for the talk show host and his guests.
This helps enhance the piece, as rather than simply standing alongside their puppets, feigning invisibility, the puppeteers provide physical support to the elderly Munch and mentally fragile Van Gogh, apparently helping them to walk on unsteady feet and offering comforting arms when they stumble.
The effort involved in operating these fully clothed, life-sized puppets is admirable. The female puppeteers wear men's shoes connected to the base of their puppets, and they also each use one arm as the puppet's own, conjuring a great illusion. Walking the smaller puppets can involve picking each leg up in turn and moving them painstakingly, bit by bit, until the puppet reaches its destination. A dance scene where the women spin about with their puppet partners in an impromptu waltz is particularly effective.
The show provides an intelligent dissection of fame, as the artists discuss Van Gogh's poverty and the ironic fact that in his own lifetime, he could not have afforded the ticket price commanded nowadays to see his works in a museum. The men's astonishment at just how famous they have become is thought-provoking, as is their need for isolation and their fascination with women – all staple topics of the show.
Created this year especially for the 150th anniversary of Edvard Munch’s birth, this production for adults has some comic moments and some sadder scenes, including the portrayal Van Gogh's mental illness. This variety is testament to the work of the puppeteers, who give a persuasive, eerily realistic performance.
'Munch and Van Gogh – The Scream of the Sunflower'
Ulrike Quade Company
With Jo Strømgren Kompani, Nordland Visual Theatre and Oldenburgisches Staatstheater