'Thinking It and Fainting' – Grist to the Mill | Suspense 2013
An exploration of one woman’s domestic life and her quest to find milk for a cup of tea, ‘Thinking it and Fainting’ is the brainchild of Brighton-based puppeteer Isobel Smith (Grist to the Mill), who developed the show during a Puppet Centre residency at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton. And, overall, the show does have the feel of a residency piece – a series of brief vignettes or puppetry experiments based on domestic life, rather than one cohesive tale.
The heroine is a pale female rod puppet, ethereal in appearance with a flowing red gown, dark eyes and white hair, like cotton wool. She moves about the stage in a slow, painstaking manner between her sink, kettle and washing line, living out a long list of household chores that must be completed before she is rewarded with a cup of tea.
Much thought has gone into creating a vintage look for the set, which features dated kitchen units and a washing line with an old fashioned dress and beige tights pegged to it, giving the impression of a fixation on the past. It’s a visually pleasing and intriguing setting, though modern props like a bottle of Vanish kitchen spray confuse the overall look.
The main puppet is beautifully made with great attention to detail. However, while her lethargic movements fit with the dream-like setting and bluish lighting, she is stilted on occasion and seems to forget to walk and instead floats from one kitchen surface to another.
Puppeteers Teele Uustani and Faith Brandon accompany Smith onstage to form a strong team, particularly when the show’s heroine must face a recurring puppet monster in her home. This strange puppet creature pops up in different forms but always has an animal’s skull for its head.
Some of the best moments involve this odd beast, who emerges from the sink with a misshapen cloth belly and wraps itself around the set, moving erratically. The creature and the domestic goddess battle in slow motion as she uses kitchen paraphernalia as weapons to defeat it, to comical effect. A shadow puppetry moment involving the fridge as a light source is another clever highlight.
The performance is accompanied by a live soundscape from musician Foz Foster who tinkers with a vast array of strings and bells. This music is soporific, helping to build the otherworldly atmosphere. Foster also produces a range of fun sound effects, though these are sometimes delayed and out of time with the action itself. When the puppet picks up a fork, it wobbles in her hand but a few seconds pass before a ‘boing’ sound can be heard, making the illusion less convincing.
The show is a successful exploration of the drudgery of domestic life but is measured and protracted. Without dialogue, and about an hour long with slow moving puppets, ‘Thinking It and Fainting’ may test attention spans.
'Thinking It and Fainting'
Grist to the Mill