Figuren Theater Tuebingen brings Wunderkammer to this year’s Manipulate festival. The Victorian Cabinet of Curiosities, or the German Wunderkammer, typically sees a room filled with rare and unusual objects or creatures. It’s a premise bursting with possibilities for three established puppeteers looking to stretch their imagination and skill. Founded in 1991, the professional free theatre company brings together puppeteers and creators Alice Therese Gottschalk, Raphael Muerle and Frank Soehnle. The German company boasts an impressive track record of shows for both mainstream TV and theatre, along with university and international performances.
I spend the first part of the show in a Daliesque dream of distortion. The music sets the tone for unease; at first jarring, the clever fusion of harpsichord, jazz piano, cello and electronic gnaws at any sense of reality. Turning ethereal and romantic, disembodied gold hands spider across a woman’s face and thread their fingers through golden strands of hair. It’s Ghost on acid – Patrick Swayze minus the potter’s wheel, or even the head, body and legs. Still there’s romance in the dance between puppet and performer.
The sheer oddness of some characters is mixed in with the sweetness of a tiny paper creature who delights in flying a kite, and the comedy of a very silly music group. A cocooned, wriggling creature finds an unlikely mother, while two tiny gold birds discover new forms. The absurdism is the perfect buffer for the initial strangeness and tension. The Wunderkammer wins through surprise and laughter.
It’s astonishing to see the variety of materials used for the marionettes. I’ve never seen an underwater puppet: its clawing, translucent body submerges and taps inside a tank. The tiny spawn it creates is breathtaking in its cleverness and realism. I stare wondering how they did it, curiosity definitely piqued. I leave reminded of the unique experience theatre can offer. The wry smiles of the performers and the sense of shared experience linger beyond anything I find on my Instagram feed. The Wunderkammer is a rare chance to be surprised by something new.