'Sock Puppet' - John-Luke Roberts
It is hard to take a sock puppet seriously. Nearly the whole lot of them – the affected thespians of film noire parody The Lady from Sockholm, the silly punsters of the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre, the rude TV host Ed the Sock – play on the lack of believability of dramatic characters portrayed via this most basic of puppet forms.
The clever conceit of ‘Sock Puppet’ is that the puppet on the end of the hand of struggling art school graduate Ralph Guiltless is indeed a sock – a haunted sock, possessed by the soul of a notorious Yorkshire art forger, who uses Ralph’s body to wreak revenge on the art professor and assorted others who betrayed him. Roberts, a comedy writer for Radio 4, delivers this modern ghost story with admirable aplomb and zestful playfulness, encouraging the audience to meet him ‘three quarters of the way’.
Music is cued by pressing a button on a tape recorder. A desk lamp lights up to illuminate the sock puppet in its most melodramatic moments. An amplified wooden block on the floor is stamped to signify a beating heart. Some of the puppet animation is a bit crude – Roberts seems unaware that mouth-synching every syllable is not advisable – but this is compensated for by Roberts’ ferocious character portrayals.The first appearance of a hipster art dealer promising YBA forgeries on demand provoked an instant guffaw from an audience member and, in turn, Roberts’ ad-libbed comment about how she must know someone like this forger already.
Probably the most delightful moment, at least for this academic-critic, is a lecture delivered with imaginary slides about the traps of forgery. (The forger got too confident and began to put himself into the work – wearing a digital watch in a nativity scene, giving two thumbs at the margins of a Blue Period Picasso.) The lecturer gets carried away and underestimates the number of slides, hurrying through the end of the slide show without comments but with annoyance. This is great comedy, though hardly challenging the limits of the medium. So the verdict is still out: can a sock puppet be anything other than a satirical tool?
Sock Puppet by John-Luke Roberts
The Yard Theatre, London