Woyzeck on the Highveld

Handspring Puppet Company

Warwick Arts Centre, Main Theatre

11th October 2011

If you hear that a company involved in War Horse is coming to an arts house near you, you leap at the chance to go and see them. Handspring’s reputation as one of the leading theatrical puppetry companies far preceded their arrival onto the University Warwick campus: they are part of an outstanding line-up programmed by China Plate (who you can follow on twitter) and lots of theatrical students were talking about them.

Unfortunately for me, they didn’t deliver the flawless production I expected. The puppets and the puppeteers, don’t get me wrong, were phenomenal; and it’s true that occasionally you can’t distinguish one from the other. As someone that didn’t already know the story, German in origin, beforehand, I still wasn’t entirely sure of it by the end. One could tell that the company and the production had stunning ideas – stop-motion animation, puppetry and live music: all very ambitious – but they failed to use the mediums they had chosen to communicate the story in full.

The plot was non-linear, and that’s no bad thing – but if I could describe the way I felt in one sweeping metaphor it would be this: the announcer at the beginning of the play explains what is happening (and there were some very close parallels to the opening of Fat-Git Theatre’s “The Nose” – the start of the commencement of the play is about to begin) through a large circus-like megaphone. But I couldn’t quite hear everything that he was saying.

I hope in the continuation of their run here and elsewhere the company will be clearer in their message, in their narrative. Get the stop-motion in time with what is happening on stage, for one thing. And I’m really not sure about the rhino.

I think in comparison with Blind Summit’s “The Table” at the Edinburgh fringe this year, the company were slightly disappointing, but I would certainly recommend going to see them if you want to see very human-looking puppets – but perhaps don’t expect to watch a story.

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