'Nice' – Folded Feather
A two-man show where Folded Feather’s whacky and wonderful puppets reign supreme, ‘Nice’ features an array of wild characters and plenty of adventure. The action focuses on Lucy, a little girl carved from smooth wood, with jointed legs and woollen hair, whose beloved toy Sancho (a blue and yellow glove puppet) sits on her left hand throughout. Lucy enters the workshop of Professor Nice, who she hopes will help to mend Sancho, but instead she encounters an unexpected journey into the bizarre.
The set is a plain space, focusing our attention onto the centrepiece – Professor Nice’s fantastic machine, formed from shining silver materials and pipes with funnel ends. Lucy gets sucked into a pipe, much like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, wherein she meets a menagerie of puppets during her quest to find a way out.
Folded Feather’s puppet repertoire includes Professor Nice himself, a life-size man with a kindly orange face, white hair, bushy eyebrows and large, NHS-style glasses. The Professor’s long robe and cape conceal the puppeteer, who stands behind with his own arms and hands through the robe’s sleeves. Strong hand gestures and tilts of the head, well-timed with the dialogue, make the Professor a convincing yet uncanny character.
In operating the majority of the puppets, Oliver Smart moves from one character to the next smoothly, exuding energy, his facial expressions and mannerisms matching those of the puppet character he is working with. At times, owing to this lively approach, you do find yourself more drawn to the animator than the animated but overall the puppets command the majority of our attention.
As animator for Lucy, Matt Short is persuasive but more demure, with a gleeful smile to match that of his puppet. He operates her through a rod on her back and by using her protruding elbows as handles. His ability to hold his gaze on Lucy, creating a point of focus, while operating her and frequently speaking in her small girl’s voice, is impressive multi-tasking.
The use of miniature theatre is a highlight, as the Professor’s machine is spun around to reveal a mini stage housed inside. Here, a scaled-down version of Lucy battles everything from cardboard lightning bolts to 2D monsters. A live video feed of goings on inside the machine enhances the magic. Other rod puppets include Mr Eatie, a humorous yet slightly unsettling giant pair of lips, operated through a wire mechanism, who moans constantly about his hunger.
A clown, made of concertina-like folds of card, is the most memorable puppet in the show. His head is a pyramid shape with no features besides a wooden ball nose, but he is outrageously expressive as he struts across the space, shouting and laughing. His shoes are worn over the puppeteer's own feet and he stomps about the stage with wide leg movements, jiggling his cardboard frame – to much amusement from young audience members. Very nice indeed!
Little Angel Theatre