Pros: The craftsmanship in the puppets, the puppeteers’ skill in creating animal movements, and the gorgeous musical score.
Cons: The very simple and rather plodding storyline.
Fowl Play is the latest production for children from the puppetry veterans at Movingstage. A new foal has been born on the farm, but just as the other animals and humans get to know him, he disappears. It takes a team effort to get him back.
The story is simple and is told using carved wood marionettes, shadow puppetry, projection, voiceover and a beautifully atmospheric original score. Where the dialogue is occasionally a bit unclear, or is drowned out by a vocally appreciative audience, the music, with its clop-clopping motif, supports the storytelling throughout. The first half of the show is very simply staged and the story progresses quite slowly. The second half is more dynamic and interesting, with lighting effects and backdrops used to conjure up different settings, with the addition of shadow puppetry.
The puppets are very lovely things and are endowed with reams of personality and species-appropriate movement by their handlers. The hens peck and scratch, the dog jumps about wagging his tail, and the fox skulks. That this is all achieved by just three puppeteers is quite remarkable. However, it is a shame that the script gives the animals such cliched personalities. The pigs are greedy and lazy, the dog is eager but stupid, the cat self-absorbed, the owl wise, and so on. A little subversion of stereotypes would go a long way to give the story more depth and more interest for older viewers.
This is a charming show made, quite literally in the case of the puppets, with love and skill. I have no doubt that it is as good a demonstration of puppet-making and puppetry as can be found anywhere, and it certainly seems to engage the younger members of the audience. All the various elements combine to create a striking spectacle, and for me the only thing that falls short is the story, which trudges instead of flowing, and doesn’t have much in the way of surprises or laughs. Fowl Play would be a great introduction to theatre for very young children, the vibe on the barge being relaxed and tolerant of audience participation, commentary and loudly-whispered requests for clarification.
This was my first time on the Puppet Theatre Barge, and for my young companions the first time on any sort of barge! So that in itself was an adventure. I was pleased by the dark, cosy and surprisingly comfortable auditorium, while they were excited by the gentle rocking of the boat, and by having to jump over a submerged section of gangplank to reach land. (Less excited by the spidery webs on deck, but in the wilds of Richmond I told them they had to expect nature, red in tooth and claw.) The show is light and, I suspect, best suited to 2-8 year olds. As an all-round experience however, a trip to the Puppet Theatre Barge is very different, and fun for all ages.