Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 5 November 2011

Great Small Works: Triple Bill

Little Angel Theatre ⋄ 31st October - 2nd November 2011

A toy theatre triptych.

Diana Damian Martin

Great Small Works are probably best known for their series of political toy theatre shows titled Toy Theatre of Terror as Usual, which featured cut-outs from magazines and newspapers juxtaposed with extracts from philosophical works and cartoonish characters satirizing aspects of socio-political life, from the Gulf War to AIDS. These pieces were created before 9/11 – hence the word ‘terror’ signifying a less burdened state of affairs – the title is actually a reference to a Walter Benjamin essay which explains how the social and political status quo is one of emergency: the rule rather than the exception.

Episode #12, presented as part of their Triple Bill at the Little Angel Theatre, looks at the Gulf War through a mosaic of acute critiques and humorous re-enactments. It’s a piece that tackles small mindedness and fundamentalism, poking fun at the American culture of fear. Through toy theatre, the company can create a meta-narrative of iconographies. This is highly-imaginative micro-politics with a brash tone that, through its humour and specificity, reinvents the possibilities of toy theatre and, in the process, laughs at democracy. Its absurdity is precisely what makes it better than any cartoon in The New Yorker.

The two other works in the evening are are more social than political in tone; it’s clear that the company have a skill and love for storytelling, and an equally ardent interest in folk culture and popular theatre tradition. To be present at the company’s shows is to experience a lapse in time, to glide from George and the Dragon to George Bush, from all-singing and-dancing spectacle to clinical satire.

The evening actually begins with a partly sung and partly demonstrated history of toy theatre, from its inception up until its break with theatre in the late 19th century. It’s not as sharp as the other two pieces on the bill, but it lays out the mechanics of the evening with a clear historical context that gives even more weight to the two following pieces. There’s also the charm of the fact that the company are seemingly too tall for the Little Angel’s tiny stage; this discrepancy between big and small marks all their work. The bridge between the History of Toy Theatre and Terror as Usual is provided by the stylistically tamed A Walk in the City, adapted from a short story by Italo Calvino. This is a beautifully narrated piece about a man getting lost in the potential presents of his city, amongst the urban jungle of skyscrapers and tower blocks; this piece is less bold yet it’s inventive and playful, bringing a touch of folklore to this urban dram. It’s an engaging travelogue and an inventive character portrait. Despite being a gentler piece than its two siblings, A Walk in the City is an internal experience that creates a portrait of a place not visited, yet so familiar – and utterly magical.

With this Triple Bill, Great Small Works have crafted a triptych of images that are both familiar and wonderfully foreign, and in doing so they have revitalised toy theatre’s potential for artistic discourses.

For details of other shows in the festival, visit the Suspense website.


Diana Damian Martin

Diana Damian Martin is a London-based performance critic, curator and theorist. She writes about theatre and performance for a range of publications including Divadlo CZ, Scenes and Teatro e Critica. She was Managing Editor of Royal Holloway's first practice based research publication and Guest Editor for postgraduate journal Platform between 2012-2015. She is co-founder of Writingshop, a long term collaborative project with three European critics examining the processes and politics of contemporary critical practice, and a member of practice-based research collective Generative Constraints. She is completing her doctoral study 'Criticism as a Political Event: theorising a practice of contemporary performance criticism' at Royal Holloway, University of London and is a Lecturer in Performance Arts at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

Great Small Works: Triple Bill Show Info

Produced by Great Small Works




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