JM Coetzee's Life & Times of Michael K

Puppetry arguably reached a new level of realism and sophistication with War Horse. The Handspring Puppet Company was the team behind that production and also the remarkable Little Amal-fame. Now they are at the Edinburgh Fringe with another stunning demonstration of the power of puppetry

A production of operatic proportions that provides a stimulating blend of multi-media

Baxter Theatre’s production of JM Coetzee’s Life & Times of Michael K has been created in collaboration with Handspring and Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus and adapted for the stage by Baxter’s Artistic Director Lara Foot who also directs the work. The widely acclaimed novel, from which it is taken, set during the 1970s-80s apartheid era in South Africa won the 1983 Booker Prize. It’s a simple yet captivating story told with great clarity and emotional strength.

The eponymous male is a humble, unassuming individual whose life was marred from birth by having a cleft lip. It made him an outcast and the butt of jokes. He obtains a job as a gardener, but soon the country finds itself thrown into civil war and martial law is imposed. Concurrently, Michael's beloved mother is taken ill. He decides to quit his job, leave the city and embark on a journey to take his mother back to here to the farm of her birthplace in the town of Prince Albert.

His travels prove difficult and the long story captures the difficulties so many experienced in South Africa during that period, even though the war is a fictional event. He suffers the bureaucracy of obtaining permits, arrests, detentions, forced labour, the death of his mother, mental breakdown, pillaging of his land by rebels and many other setbacks in his life. It’s a protracted tale of misfortune and although the show has been reduced over the years to a running time of around two hours it still feels laboured at times, especially when the initial thrill of the puppetry has worn off.

But that thrill is quite exceptional. In the hands of Puppet Master Craig Leo and Puppeteers Roshina Ratnam and Markus Schabbing, manipulating Michael and his mother evoke emotional responses that would be a credit to any actor. The use of film close-ups reveals the pain and sadness on their faces and the skill of their manipulators is astounding, going way beyond the art of walking to the complex manoeuvering of mother into a bathtub on a cart and the stirring of ingredients in a bowl.

Patrick Curtis’s grand-scale set creates the mood and locations for the story and is well-suited to the expanse of the Assembly Main Hall, enhanced by evocative sounds and music from composer Kyle Shephard and Sound Designer Simon Kohler.

Together the creatives and cast have ensured a production of operatic proportions that provides a stimulating blend of multi-media to tell a moving tale.

Visit Show Website

Reviews by Richard Beck

Marylebone Theatre

The Government Inspector

Park Theatre / Park Theatre London

A Song of Songs

The Lantern @ ACT

Six Characters in Search of Pirandello

Grania Dean Studio (Lantern Theatre @ ACT)


Multiple Venues

Far From Home Close To Love

Jermyn Street Theatre

Laughing Boy


Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now



The Blurb

The Baxter (two-time Scotsman Fringe First winners) in collaboration with Tony Award-winning Handspring Puppet Company (of War Horse and Little Amal fame) are at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe at the Assembly Hall! The UK premiere of JM Coetzee's Life and Times of Michael K, adapted for the stage by Lara Foot. A Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus (Germany) and Baxter Theatre co-production.

Most Popular See More


From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Mousetrap

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Phantom of the Opera

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mamma Mia!

From £15.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Tina - The Tina Turner Musical

From £12.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Play That Goes Wrong

From £27.00

More Info

Find Tickets