Set in London during the devastating plague of 1665, Lost in the Fog’s A Song of Plague blends music, puppetry and poetry to tell the story of a physician’s attempts to find a cure for the deadly disease. With well-crafted melancholic folk songs, characterful puppets (hand, shadow, bunraku), and a set displaying the cityscape as well as the inside of the physician’s laboratory, the necerssary elements for a fine show were there. Indeed, this mix can be a superbly dynamic way to tell a story. But in A Song of Plague there are too many holes and difficulties to make good on the potential.
Too many holes and difficulties to make good on the potential.
Musician-Actor Sonny Brazil plays guitar and sings beautifully, but when tasked with narrating the simple tale, his rhyming couplets are delivered without a sense of significance. A lack of cohesion is more broadly reflected in the narrative itself. For example, there is a confusing shadow-puppet flashback mid-show, that should have been presented earlier to contextualise the relationship of the main characters. The design of the character of Death was also a misstep. In representing Death as a plague doctor, visuals trumped logic. Here, Death is a symbol of the plague itself and also someone trying to cure it (a plague doctor). Finally, as the plague of 1665 was in fact eradicated by the great fire of London in 1666, there was an opportunity to end the piece on a high with images of purging conflagration. This option was not taken, and the chosen ending verged on bathos.
Puppeteers Joanna May and Morag Haswell show their experience in their always careful manipulation of their puppets and their ability to work within complex and cramped spaces. Special mention must be made of the black rat puppet, which was both entertainingly energetic and gnawingly repulsive. Lost in the Fog looks like a new company possessing talent and an eye for detail. With more concern for narrative development and delivery, I would expect to see some thrilling productions from them in the future. Given the crushing heat of the Burrow, the cast deserved their rousing applause at the end!