Pros: A poetic, atmospheric and elegant show.
Cons: The pace is slow and the storyline is, at times, drawn out.
An eighteenth century poem performed with puppets – on a boat. At this point, you’re probably either hooked entirely or I’ve lost you forever. In the latter case, the Puppet Theatre Barge’s The Ancient Mariner isn’t likely to change your mind… but, if you are interested in the concept, you’re going to love this show.
The first thing to make clear is that this is not a children’s puppet show. Not that there’s anything unsuitable for kids in it, but the pace is slow and the text is dense and not readily accessible. Poetry enthusiasts will be delighted to hear that no liberties have been taken with Coleridge’s text. Indeed, there has been no adaptation at all. The poem is narrated over the top of the action with an eerie, old-fashioned recorded voice, with occasional whispers from the sailors.
This does present a bit of a problem, as anyone who knows the poem will realise: The Ancient Mariner is not a long work, and at times the play feels stretched out. The set pieces are elongated and there are long quiet sections. However, the production manages to pull it off, and there is plenty to admire along the way. There is a real love of the craft evident here, and everything you see and hear is lush. As the mariner watches the sky change from an inky blue midnight to a rose-blushed dawn, you can’t help but shiver at the elegance of it all.
This is a very traditional style of puppetry, with puppeteers operating above the small stage, always hidden by the curtains. There is no attempt to hide the strings or create an illusion, favouring instead a pleasant affect over an air of mystery. The Ancient Mariner doesn’t showcase many of the breathtaking effects that modern puppet shows often provide, but instead shows a confidence in its traditional methods that pays off. The sets are very simple and the various sea snakes and spirits enliven the display. These visuals are accompanied by a haunting and beautiful score; the wedding guest who hears the mariner’s tale is made a violinist and the play opens to a burst of golden light and bright music.
The Puppet Theatre Barge is an exquisite venue that lives in Little Venice and tours to Richmond. The boat itself is a significant part of the experience. There is character and charm everywhere you look: the decor is old and well-loved, the boat itself is made up of odd angles and little nooks, and the most beautifully crafted puppets hang here and there. The barge is also in need of maintenance work to keep it afloat. The company is running a crowdfunding campaign to fund this, offering some rather nice rewards such as postcards, tickets and parties.
Overall this show comes very highly recommended. The cosiness of the venue, the rarity of the subject matter, and the sheer love and skill that have gone into the whole production make it a show that I personally am very, very glad I didn’t miss.
Author: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Director: Rob Humphreys
Box Office: 020 7249 6876
Booking Link: http://www.puppetbarge.com/Temporrarynotice.htm
Booking Until: 1 October 2016