An enigmatic title is the hallmark of many Fringe shows – I’m sure no one knows quite what to expect from Duckpond: An Element of Mystery in Umpteen Samples or Lights Over Tesco Car Park. It’s refreshing, therefore, to find a show like Famous Puppet Death Scenes which does exactly what it says on the tin.
A slickly-executed compendium of ghoulish drama and dark humour.
Our guide through the show is Nathaniel Tweak – a sad, professorial puppet on a quest to discover why it is that, despite spending so much time and effort bringing puppets to vivid life, it barely touches us when we see them in peril. As an academic exercise, Tweak has assembled what he considers some of the finest puppetry death scenes to play before us and gauge our reactions.
What follows is a series of Burtonesque macabre vignettes featuring a range of different types of puppets perishing in a range of different ghoulish ways. Be warned - puppets these may be but this is most certainly not a show to bring young kids to. Though most of the puppet deaths are pretty slapstick, some are downright disturbing and a few of the puppets themselves are pretty nightmarish.
Some scenes, through, are surprisingly both haunting and beautiful. For example, The Last Whale or King Jimmy have an ethereal, tranquil quality to them – Pythonesque capers eschewed for an implied demise and all the more striking for it.
In terms of craft, the sets are a cut above your average Fringe show and all of the puppets are impressive constructions, imbued with humour and charm throughout each of the individual sections.
Where the show falls a bit short is in its overall structure. Investigating our morbid fascination with puppetcide is a good overall theme but it isn't sufficiently present to tie the individual sections into a coherent narrative. There are also a lot of these sections and each is so short that, with the exception of a recurring character and the narrator himself, we don't have a chance to form an emotional connection with any of the puppets, lessening the impact of their deaths. Where this connection is present and time is given to the story, the results are electrifying.
This said, Famous Puppet Death Scenes is still a slickly-executed compendium of ghoulish drama and dark humour. Though too grim for younger audiences, older kids and adults will find more than enough guilty thrills and creepy chills to round off their day (and even a few haunting images to follow them into the night).