When someone mentions mime, puppetry and theatre, three stereotypes often spring to mind: pretentiousness, France and War Horse. Blind Summit have great fun playing around with the first two in their imaginative, precise and dry humoured production, The Table.
The first half centres around a puppet stuck on a fold out table. He struts around – via the taut manipulation of Mark Down, Nick Barnes and Sean Garratt – like a sort of half actor, half stand-up who’s eternally resigned to life on a table three paces long by one pace wide. Any half drawn metaphors to life are immediately undercut with a dry humoured wit – at one point the puppet wryly proclaims “In my back story I was a box”.
In fact, they even undercut the puppetry itself. In the opening section the cast demonstrate how to move a puppet and, as the puppet’s soured relationship with a girl (Sarah Calver) plays out, you’re constantly aware of the techniques being used; snagging your disbelief and stopping you from ever becoming completely immersed. This may sound like a negative, and it’s true you rarely get that thrill of consistently forgetting the puppeteers are there, but instead you get the chance to flit between two ways of seeing. One moment you just see the puppet, the next you’re aware of it being moved by the puppeteers. The effect is oddly entrancing.
Where the first section has little overarching narrative, the second barely aims for narrative at all. Instead, skulls float between picture frames in a tightly choreographed dance to music. The skulls shrink as they’re chased by spikes or crushed by clouds and your sense of depth and perception is dizzyingly played with. It’s unapologetic sensory entertainment that bubbles every now and then with a mini story.
The final piece is the most enchanting; the company pulling a story from a briefcase like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat. A4 bits of paper are carefully plucked out, each one its own cartoon frame of a story and brought to life as much by the puppeteers handling as by the pictures on the paper. It’s the simple imagination of the storytelling that really shines through here. It’s a style that could tend towards the indulgent, but is nicely balanced by a dose of British cynicism and wit: entitled ‘French Puppetry’ the company dress in black with white roll-ups dangling from their lips.
The Table runs as part of the International Mime Festival and while this particular show might not tackle the questions of life, what it does do is give you three tightly told, imaginative and humorous pieces and you can’t go far wrong with that.