Puppet Opera Triple Bill – Third Hand
Third Hand, Britain’s first puppet opera theatre company, delivers a showcase of genre mashing delights with its ‘Puppet Opera Triple Bill’ at Islington’s Rosemary Branch Theatre.
Based on a Victorian short story by W.S. Gilbert, ‘Angela, an Inverted Love Story’ focuses on the plight of a disabled artist living above a Venice canal. The restricted view from his window means the only way the artist can see the young lady he adores, as she stands at her own window, is by viewing her inverted reflection in the canal below.
The set features two pretty window frames spaced apart, one upright, in which the artist, a sombre looking rod puppet with a bluish complexion, resides. The other window is inverted, representing the artist’s view of Angela, another rod puppet, her flowing gown cleverly attached to the top of the window, allowing her to be animated upside down.
Operated by two puppeteers each, including Cass and Fagner Gastaldon (PuppetSoup), the puppets make realistic, controlled movements, creating much empathy for the artist as a lonely, frail man as he throws roses into the canal. Mark Nathan and Rosie Bell sing the lead roles beautifully and Corin Buckeridge’s live piano score is a sombre but perfect fit, making this the standout show of the evening.
Manuel de Falla’s ‘Master Peter’s Puppet Show’ is a puppet opera first performed 90 years ago, based on an episode from Don Quixote. It’s presented here from behind a wooden screen, giving the experience of a traditional puppet theatre. The performers control wooden hand puppets and take turns for singing and acting duties. The show has a light hearted, comical feel.
Though the puppeteers demonstrate multi-tasking and speed as they animate everything from a hangman and a king to a horse and a wine bottle, it is often difficult to fully marry the narrative and visual elements together. The vocals are sung so quickly, they are often hard to decipher, reducing the show’s impact.
‘Renard’ by Igor Stravinsky tells the tale of a fox who deceives a group of farmyard animals, who later exact their revenge. For this production, Third Hand’s directors (Darren East and Stuart Barker) have chosen the unexpected setting of a modern restaurant kitchen, where staff and waitresses rush about.
Musical director James Young makes clever use of the space as performers bash their hands on kitchen tops, creating rhythmic percussion over a bold, energetic piano score. The fox, created from potato sacks and a fake leg of ham, swoops about the room with support from two puppeteers.
A cat with a colander head and a cockerel forged from a fake plucked chicken and rubber glove provide quality object theatre. A mop and bucket is not quite as successful in representing a goat but the show is enjoyable and has been imaginatively adapted to fit this modern setting, with the singers confidently doubling up on puppeteering duties.
This triple bill is Third Hand’s first project and a positive start in showcasing just how versatile and inventive puppet opera can be.
Puppet Opera Triple Bill