Djanogly Theatre, Nottingham Lakeside Arts
One of the highlights of the first ever Nottingham Puppet Festival, which took place in March this year, was Cie Akselere’s ingenious retelling of Sleeping Beauty.
The show was written, directed and performed by Colette Garrigan and adapted from the Briar Rose fairy tale, choosing the suburbs of urban Liverpool as its Kingdom.
The piece is not autobiographical but we definitely get the feeling that Garrigan has drawn on her own childhood experiences growing up in Liverpool. This is a bittersweet view of a city devastated by unemployment, a no nonsense working class backdrop, tinged with the sadness and subtle cruelty of all good fairy tales, and yet Garrigan delivers the piece with no trace of pity, and an open honesty that is spellbinding.
Although Garrigan has made work for younger audiences this ‘exploration’ is definitely a piece geared towards adults and teenagers.
The set is simple. A clean white tablecloth that hangs quietly over a long wooden table later becomes the dynamic backdrop for our story.
The objects that have been carefully placed on the table arouse our curiosity: green glass candlesticks, a silver toast rack, a wire basket, a bread roll, two glass bottles and a deep red tasselled bell pull that hangs tantalisingly over the end of the table, all seem to be waiting….The atmosphere is pregnant with expectation.
As the audience enters, our narrator/waitress/princess draws us in with her magnetic presence as she stands patiently still at the side of the stage, eyes wide and the hint of a half smile. She waits until we are ‘all sitting comfortably’ to begin.
Garrigan is a great storyteller, charming and warm. Her use of rhythm and comic timing, hook us into her journey straight away. The dialogue is peppered with many rich plays on words that not only generate laughs, but also resonate emotionally: “Our princess”, she says, “may have to visit the beauty bank because today I feel a little overdrawn”. (I might have to use that one myself…).
It is no mean feat, and often sadly absent in puppetry performances, but Garrigan manages to paint just as vivid a picture with her words as she does with the objects she manipulates. There is no discord, only a lovely marriage of text and action. The patiently waiting objects on the table get their turn and are beautifully woven into a host of unforgettable characters and settings, transformed by the brilliant use of light and shadow. The transitions are never endingly surprising.
My only concern was the danger of using very small-scale puppetry in a large auditorium. Inventive as it is, when the action is condensed onto a playboard that is restricted in size, a lampshade in this case - that served as a set within a set, there is the risk of a disconnect with the audience – simply because they cannot follow the intricacies of the puppetry, and this is where briefly lost connection with what was otherwise a beautiful and captivating show.
I highly recommend a visit to the kingdom of Cie Akselere next time Colette Garrigan is in town.