'Something Very Far Away' - Unicorn Theatre
A Unicorn Theatre Production developed with the support of the National Theatre Studio.
Written and directed by Mark Arends
Design and animation by Matthew Robins
Lighting Design by Declan Randall
Brecht believed in the suppression of dishonest illusion and the involvement of the spectators in performance. He was part of a zeitgeist which brought the puppeteers onto the stage in an attempt to denude the puppets of their ‘magic’ life, to show the mechanics of their artificiality. I wonder what Brecht would have thought of some of the new puppetry, seen in the work of Paper Cinema and Matthew Robins, where there is not only the visible puppeteer and the controls of the puppets, but in addition a very forest of technology – cameras, cables, screens, lighting and sound equipment - all of which confront the audience on entering. Absolute death to illusion, you might think – but at least to some extent you would be wrong. After the showing of Something Very Far Away at the Unicorn’s theatre for young people, one spectator confessed to weeping at the plight of the puppet couple separated by death but reunited in the stars.
She had reacted to the simplest and most unlikely of love stories told with roughly made and manipulated puppets and shaky little props, contrasted with delicate and beautiful backgrounds and sets both two- and three-dimensional, all of which were managed by four operators scuttling back and forth between the six work stations from which the action was projected onto the big screen at the back of the cluttered staging area. There remained little room for imagination. Yet somehow, for some of the people present, illusion – the belief in the characters and their story - was maintained.
For me, and probably for many, interest in the mechanics and the actions of the operators held my attention more than the distilled story shown on the screen. Something Very Far Away was written and directed by Mark Arends, with expert lighting by Declan Randall. The five performers, who acted as manipulators not only of rod puppet figures but of cameras and musical instruments (and more), were Mark Arends (‘music’ the programme says), David Emmings, Avya Leventis, Julia Slienger and Ben Whybrow, all excellent contributors to a complicated but thoroughly professional show.
The unique style of Matthew Robins’ silhouettes is now well-known, as is his character ‘Flyboy’. His work has been projected onto the flytower (a deliberate association?) of the National Theatre and he is now working with the National on an adaptation of the Macdonald fairy story about the Light Princess.