This puppet’s nose isn’t growing when he comments that The Table is,‘difficult to put your finger on, as you’ll discover when you try and tell your friends what you came to see.’ I couldn’t have put it better myself. To start with that admission feels like a cop out. It is a cop out, in fact. But its worth it if it maximises my chance of selling you the show.
The Table centres on a beardy puppet operated by three completely visible puppeteers. Gruff, cynical and wry the puppet is deliciously frank about his situation. Gesturing at Nick, who is crouched to control his feet, he remarks that without the table, ‘I’d be on the floor, and he’d be fucked’. He’s in the know about his mechanics, too. ‘I can change all my parts,’ he tells us, ‘Oh yes, Madam - all my parts’. Meta-puppetry has never been so bold.
The puppetry is so slick that I was surprised to discover that the show is partly improvised. The puppeteers’ improvisational skills aren’t just limited to moving the puppet, however. Their humour is charming too. When, recovering from a particularly adventurous departure from the table, the puppet remarked with relief, ‘We’re back in England’, the faux pas was rightly pointed out to him. The puppet nearly fell on the floor in embarrassment. Later, when ‘feeling sick’, he commented, ‘it’s that Haggis I had for lunch. In Scotland.’
As with all theatre, the show engages with ‘the illusion of life.’ It’s strangely thrilling when the puppeteers rest the puppet down and continue to mime as if he’s still in their hands. And I was filled with genuine suspense whenever the puppet teetered on the edge of his table. So when, knocking his head, the puppet remarked, ‘there’s nothing in there’, I was laughing partly at myself.
Given all these references to the creation of life, it’s surely no coincidence that the show involves quite a bit about the Bible, if mockingly. But if there are moments of philosophical depth in The Table, there are also some crap one-liners. Crap one-liners are great sometimes. When the puppet commented that for the part of Moses, ‘you need a puppet… or at least a very wooden actor’, it was definitely one of those times. The comedy of much of the puppetry is also funny in a nicely elementary way. Watching the puppet running on a treadmill, falling off a treadmill, being, ‘man on a record player’ and dancing (“I feel a lot more sexy than normal”) made me laugh like a five year old.
My only criticism is that the show could have been slightly shorter. Very occasionally, it seemed to lack direction, and cutting it a little might have solved this.
At times, the Table is breathtaking - people were not only gasping, they were breaking into spontaneous applause. At others, it felt like it might fall apart. The best semi-improvised puppetry is like that though. This is an absolute triumph.