Best of Punched

This show, now an annual event at The Old Market, purports to bring together the best of Brighton's puppetry scene. I've got to say that if this is the best, I would be truly scared to see the lot that didn't make the cut, as this (for the most part) is a stillbirth of a show; an unfunny, uninteresting, unedifying mess.

I love the tradition of puppetry, and the new directions it is being taken in. But just not this particular direction, unfortunately.

I mean, how can you get puppets so wrong? Mainly, it seems by getting so caught up in your own wizardry that you forget about the audience. The cleverness here trumps the entertainment value, and the cruel joke is that it's not even that clever.

I also have no problem at all with bringing existentialism into the world of puppetry, but when an act consists of a man reading a paper, dropping the paper to reveal a mask (I'm not sure of who but I'll bet my bottom dollar it was a famous philosopher) and then tearing at the mask for 15 minutes solid to a soundtrack of how Vienna is famous for it's stinking lavatories, I draw the line. Two minutes and I could have brushed it off, but 15?

And I wanted to love this show. I really thought I would love this show. I love the tradition of puppetry, and the new directions it is being taken in. But just not this particular direction, unfortunately.

Our host is a cross-dressing Punch-a-like called Miranda, with a gruff American accent and a most unfunny line in patter. The first act goes wrong: the projected film doesn't work. Miranda has to cover. It's painful.

A devised piece by Isobel Smith follows called Thinking It and Fainting. Lipstick is smeared, shaman-like, and skulls are moved amongst rags, bones moved up and down a washing line... for ever. I found myself staring into the darkness of the stairwell and finding it more interesting and meaningful.

The Butcher and The Beast seemed, from four rows back, like two people intently moving small things around on a table. They looked like they were enjoying it. I wasn't.

The saving grace of the first half was a disturbing and frankly terrifying act from Daisy Jordan in which she introduces us to an ugly life-sized orang-utan she's created who sits on her lap in silence. "If she could speak," Jordan tells us in a monotone, "she'd talk of her humiliation." Now, here is existentialist puppetry done with quiet panache. "A lot of people are frightened of her," she continues, as the puppet sits, mute, dressed in a grotesque baby bonnet like an upturned Orville, "and I find this quite funny. I make her chase them with a kitchen knife." Sad, pathetic, knowing, and simply brilliant.

Ding ding! The interval fight begins! Rather appropriately for the title of the show and how I'm feeling after the first half, a humongous and bloody fight breaks out in the foyer. I wonder idly if someone's seen the first half of the show and is demanding their money back, but no, it's nothing to do with us Old Market bohos: some drunks have invaded the building and are screaming and shouting and glassing each other.

Second half: round two and we're back in the realms of the painfully wacky. We're informed that Twydall Crumblepatch has decided that taking himself off to Paris with his girlfriend is more important than this gig, so we get to see a film of the loon in action. His puppets consist mostly of the stuffed heads of animals (and sometimes other body parts) being made into puppets. If you're old enough, think Hartley Hare and Pipkins. They dance. That's it. Oh joy.

Will last act Matt Rudkin save the day? No, he won't, although his snippet is slightly more interesting than most of what's gone before. It's a surreal stream of consciousness performed by a man's head on a tiny puppet body on top of a Teletubbie hillock and it's called Buddhism: Is It Just For Losers?

I walked out of the Old Market angry, angry that I'd spent over two and a half hours watching this... mix. I can't help feeling that if you're going to dress up puppetry with situationist happenings and existential musings, you should put it on the poster so that the audience is at least a little prepared. Also, for god's sake, keep the acts to five minutes apiece. Then we'd get all of the flavour but none of the stench.

Reviews by Kat Pope

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The Blurb

Think you know puppetry? Think again! Brighton’s sell-out puppetry night for grown-ups showcases a dazzling array of acts; inspiring theatre, magical creatures, bizarre new worlds, cabaret, comedy and craft. A unique chance to enjoy Brighton’s amazing makers, performers and writers in theatre’s hottest and most adventurous art form. “All the makings of a cult hit” (The Argus), **** (Latest 7)

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