'Bastard!' – DudaPaiva Company | Suspense 2013
Amid a pile of decaying rubbish, a somewhat inebriated man emerges to find his leg has turned into the head of a singing horse. So begins Duda Paiva’s ‘Bastard!’, a solo show that explores existential notions of hell and entrapment. While this may sound like hard work, the humour underpinning the piece makes it very enjoyable, if you’re willing to accept that rational connections and happy endings are unobtainable.
The emergent man is an “artist”, though what kind of artist we never find out. It turns out the rubbish dump is also occupied by Clementine, an ex ballet dancer who has lost her legs, and her male counterpart who is simply known as Bastard. Throughout the piece the artist attempts to find an escape but his efforts are futile.
Is this a special kind of hell reserved for artists? We are offered space to ponder this possibility and come to our own conclusions. Some might find this frustrating but I think it’s the strength of the work. Why the man might have ended up in this place we don’t know – it makes little sense, much like life itself, and is reminiscent of Beckett.
There is significant pleasure to be had in the sheer virtuosity of Duda Paiva’s ability to operate puppets in unusual and often complex ways. For example, the singing horse head lip-syncs via Paiva’s flexible foot. It’s often fascinating to watch the way in which he is able to split his focus, simultaneously playing a character and animating a puppet. There is a moment when Cle (short for Clementine and also French for key, in case you’re looking for clues), Bastard and the artist engage in a conversation. It’s testament to Paiva’s skill that we forget that all the characters are played by him.
The puppets themselves are carved from foam and, while simple, are sculptured in a grotesque manner to elicit an aching sympathy as well as repulsion. Structurally, they are designed to capture movement in very human ways with limbs that have a momentum of their own.
Paiva’s skill as a dancer is characteristic of his approach to puppetry. In a memorable section, the artist lends his legs to Cle for her to dance and remember her ballerina days, resulting in a strange hybrid creature as the puppeteer’s legs are appropriated by the puppet. The moment is at once joyful and horrifically sad. Duda Paiva’s 'Bastard!' is where great puppet theatre meets great physical theatre, and existentialism to boot!