'The Crocodile' – Llywelyn ap Myrddin
Set over a century ago in high class Russian society, 'The Crocodile' is a comic opera with bite. The drama focuses on the presentation of an Egyptian crocodile at a press conference but social norms are shaken up when, early on, a man is eaten alive by the beast. Despite the panic of his friends, he soon grows accustomed to his new living quarters inside the crocodile's stomach.
Puppet designers Roger and Julie Lade have created a sizeable crocodile rod puppet that is realistic yet cartoon-esque in appearance. Forged from stiff cardboard and stockinet material, the beast is closer to sweet than scary, yet still provides a strong dramatic impact when chasing the singers about the stage.
The puppet also boasts some more subtle design elements that help to enhance the overall effect, including a hint of glitter, which has been painted onto its eyeballs and pointy teeth to make them glint.
Puppeteer Caroline Mathius shows impressive strength and agility as she picks the whole puppet up, allowing it to soar gracefully through the air, circling the actors. The beast bides its time before snapping at onlookers in a frenzy, made all the more intense by strobe lighting that gives a kind of stop motion animation effect.
Mathius' skill as a trained ballet dancer is put to good use, creating a marked contrast between her graceful pirouettes and the aggressive snapping of the puppet she controls. As a puppeteer, she has excellent control of the beast, although bringing a little more movement to the crocodile when it is resting, to show breathing and slight movements, could enhance the illusion further.
Ben Gerlis' set design works well in combining the decadence of the era with elements reflecting the crocodile's origins, such as a painting of the Egyptian pyramids and a set of exotic looking rugs hanging from the wall. A staircase allows for some interesting puppetry when walking the crocodile up and down the steps and the whole set conceals a 12-piece band, which performs composer Llywelyn ap Myrddin's score live. They deliver a tight, quirky mix of salon music, jazz, gospel and tango.
The performers all sing beautifully, with a constant stream of witty lines, including Kristy Swift, whose depiction of Elana – a flirty, selfish lady with a penchant for diamonds – nicely sums up the materialistic world in which the characters live. The writing is sharp and genuinely hilarious in parts, made all the more fun through director Alex Sutton's thoughtful use of choreography and heightened movements. 'The Crocodile' is a stand-out show from this year's Tête à Tête opera festival.
Music: Llywelyn ap Myrddin
Director/Choreographer: Alex Sutton
Designer: Ben Gerlis
Co-Costume Designer: Mike Leopold
Costume Supervisor: Fiona Pollard
Lighting Designer: Christopher Nairne
Production Manager: Mike Leopold
Stage Manager: Roshni Savjani
Executive Producer: Age of Anxiety
Producer: Fleur Mellor
Puppet Designer/Builder: Roger and Julie Lade
Make Up: Reuben Kaye
Assistant to Ben Gerlis: Jess Hudsley
Music Director: John Murton