'Shakespeare: The Puppet Show' – The Puppet Story
'Shakespeare: The Puppet Show' has been devised by The Puppet Story as part of the V&A’s Shakespeare Festival, celebrating the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. It uses replicas of puppets from the V&A’s archives (beautifully recreated by Max Humpries) and text from Shakespeare’s plays to create a world that is enchanting and enthralling. On paper the lecture hall seems like an odd venue but the packing-case set compliments the high domed ceiling and wood-panelled walls of the hall, creating a magical, surreal setting.
The protagonist is The Martinek Giant, a puppet without a history, desperate to find his character. We follow him as he discovers himself through Shakespeare and working with the other, more identity-secure puppets. The main theme of the show is identity – forming, retaining and finding yourself in the face of adversity. This applies differently to each of the puppets; while the Martinek Giant is trying to find his identity, Mr Punch’s clear self-image sets him up as antagonist and deserving of his comeuppance. Bones, a skeleton and one of the more technically interesting puppets (his party trick is floating his head in the air) is struggling to escape from typecasting through disguise.
The mixture of puppets used – rod, glove, marionette and Scaramouche – provides an interesting contrast. A particularly striking moment is the first appearance of Macbeth’s witches – a puppet with three Russian-doll-style stacking heads. The company explores the texts of Shakespeare and skilfully manipulates the wording of some of his more famous speeches to fit the play.
The mixture of contemporary and classical language feels natural to the puppets and puppeteers and helps keep the young audience engaged, and the occasional educational fact-dropping moment fits in. The use of live music – in particular the Kantele, a form of Finnish harp – enhances the atmosphere.
One element that could be improved is the use of static shadow-puppet forms to set the scene – although they work on some levels, they're occasionally distracting. But, overall, 'Shakespeare: The Puppet Show' is an engaging piece of family theatre, exploring the work of Shakespeare and different forms of puppetry.
'Shakespeare The Puppet Show'
The Puppet Story
Supported by Arts Council England, Golsoncott Foundation, V&A and Puppet Centre.