There was a bitter wind blowing as I arrived at the Puppet Barge in Little Venice, moored at a beautiful spot just steps away from Warwick Avenue tube station. I was a little hesitant about going into a confined space in this time of pandemic, but a warm welcome and conspicuous audience management reassured me. A few moments later and I was comfortably seated, hot coffee in hand, in this surprisingly spacious theatre on a boat, about to undertake a wonderful adventure that took me out of time and through space.
In this unusual auditorium String Theatre present The Crow’s Tale, an enchanting story based on Naomi Howarth’s picture book. It relates in verse the Native American folktale of how the rainbow crow bravely flies to get fire from the sun, to keep his friends from freezing to death in winter. In the pitch black of the theatre the rich colours of the staging are captivating from the start, while haunting music gives voice to the beautiful rainbow crow, sweeping us through the narrative. He and his animal friends are skilfully crafted marionettes, dextrously manipulated as they enact the precarious balance between life and death, and the struggle of a bitter winter. Their troubles are exacerbated by the magical, godlike figure of the Snow Child, who could easily be a character from a Marvel movie or The Moomins, and who adds an extra dimension to the strange world of the story. The puppets are endearingly convincing in depicting their animals, showing them lovingly overcome their natural roles of predator and prey to unite and battle a shared dilemma.
It is easy to get swept away into fantasy, as the play cleverly creates a mystical sense of the universal. Combining a Native American origins story with a forest that could be anywhere, accompanied by a musical narrative voice with a Scandinavian accent, the elements are securely bound together through the age old form of the marionette. But although rooted in the past and folklore, the adventure then thrillingly breaks time barriers by propelling us through an exciting space-scape that includes whirling, lit-up space junk and planets, till we reach the Sun.
Crow’s brave journey is impressively staged, with simple lighting cleverly creating the intense feeling of arduousness in his flight and an acute sense of peril. His struggle and sacrifice for his friends is thoroughly moving, and on his return to Earth we are left understanding an important message that we should not judge people on their appearance but rather on their behaviour. So the fable from the past is still very relevant in the present.
This production is delightful at every level; visually beautiful, musically impressive, skilfully enacted and a captivating story. It is an escape capsule of much needed pleasure which offers a welcome break from the worldly stress of our current pandemic. The Puppet Barge experience is to be highly recommended to young and old alike; 45 minutes of pure pleasure – what have you got to lose? And what better way to escape Covid than with a magical corvid?
Puppeteers: Bori Mező, Stan Middleton & Soledad Zárate
Puppets, Props & Scenery by: Stan Middleton, Soledad Zárate & Jan Zalud
Narrated by: Valý Þórsteinsdóttir
Poem by: Naomi Howarth
Crow’s Vocals by: Polina Shepherd
Composition by: Josh Middleton
Directed by: Kate Middleton
The Crow’s Tale is playing until 31 January. It is suitable for children aged four and over.