Whilst this exquisite twenty-minute piece had only the time to hint at the ideas that permeated it, for its small, meditative audience those ideas were like stones thrown into a still lake, the effects of which spread in ever-wider circles.
At the door of the intimate Upstairs space at Soho Theatre, we were given raffle tickets by the two performers. Instantly I was on their side: firstly, I love a good raffle, but the fact that the performers had put themselves amongst us in such an unassuming, practical way made me feel as if we were in a dialogue from the start.
With the performers ducked behind their table-top performance space, were two instantly loveable characters emerged with egg-like heads. They began a brilliant slapstick routine, which felt firmly rooted in the world of Buster Keaton or Laurel and Hardy. The simple wooden table top was re-made into stools, a bench, and a see-saw amongst other things: no frills were needed. There was an air of Beckettian absurdist hope about the whole scene – especially with the added poetry, played as a voiceover. It was beautifully simple, the words and actions of the characters uniting to create a world that felt at once playful, profound, lonely and hopeful. There was something satisfyingly human about the puppets and the way in which the puppeteers handled them – their own facial expressions were telling, and a joy to watch.
The eggheads disappeared in much the same way as they had appeared: comically and without ceremony. They were replaced by smaller figures on the same set. The plank of wood now seemed huge and it became a struggle for the characters to move about in the same space that the eggheads had found so easy to navigate only a moment before. They had their legs bound in hessian bags – reminiscent of a childhood sack race. But these were no children. There was something desperate and slightly sad about the figures and their faces (the most overtly human of the puppet cast) – as if they had been restricted and had no idea how to escape. Setting up an absurd collection-point system (again evocative of of the futile regimes of Beckett or Kafka), the raffle tickets came into play, with audience members called up by their raffle numbers. It was profoundly meaningless – in the best possible way. Red tape for the sake of red tape: an accute satire of the systems we are governed by.
The penultimate sketch was by far the most moving, with schematic doll figures rifling through the remains of other ‘dead’ puppets. It reminded me of Bjork’s ‘Hyperballad’: “Every morning I walk towards the edge and throw little things off / like car parts, bottles and cutlery or whatever I find lying around / I imagine what my body would sound like slamming against those rocks.” The underlying, ominous score was perfectly pitched, and the addition of the simple amplified text, “What are these things here for?” was jolting. It seemed a picture of some materialist dystopia, and brought to mind an advert I’d seen on my way to the theatre, a female form tottering under a mountain of Harrods’ boxes and bags; the insinuation that happiness would come flying our way as long as we visited the shop and spent every last penny we had on so many bags off stuff that we could hardly – blindly – walk.
As the nightmarish heads disappeared from view I felt a sense of dreadful unease combined with an odd sense of clarity. The eggheads appeared once more and relief swept over me: silly eggheads going nowhere, hitting each other with planks of wood in a Beckettian nowhere-land. Better than staring full in the face the futility of the all-encompassing capitalist consumerist culture I have little option but to participate in.
I left feeling wonderfully enlightened and elated. I felt extremely privileged to have been one of a few lucky people to have witnessed this little big show. “What are these things here for?” That’s easy. To make puppets out of and change the world.