Underbelly Bristo Square – Cowbarn
Leonardo the monster is really not very scary, and he feels bad about it, especially when he is bullied by the other monsters who are so much better at frightening than he is. He sets out to fix this. When he meets Sam, the most scaredy-cat kid in the world, he realises this is his big chance! But can he do it? And is being scary what he wants to be after all?
Manual Cinema have created a truly impressive multimedia production, adapted from Mo Willems’ picture books. The view of the stage from the front stalls is pretty much split into a prominent screen on the right, with a guitar-playing narrator on the other side of the stage. Behind and beside all this, the performers set about making the show happen live. They use enchanting paper puppets to act out the start of the story, projecting them onto the big screen using live feed cameras. It’s beautifully and skilfully done and literally brings the books off the page, colourfully giving them life. They then switch to actual puppets, performed to the rear of the stage, the action again projected onto the big screen. There’s a great soundtrack which, with the help of our fabulous narrator’s guitar playing, keeps the pace ticking along. It’s a lot of fun. Then the humans leap off the page to become actors, costumed in a wonderfully cartoon form. There’s singing, there’s audience participation: it’s all certainly very clever, meticulously paced and actioned.
The show has a great message too; being happy to be yourself, making big decisions, finding friends and a place in the world where you are comfortable. Important themes of empathy, understanding and resolution are tackled with light humour.
I really enjoyed this exciting piece of work and cannot fault the creativity or execution of it in any way: this is a massively talented team. So why not give five stars you might ask? This is purely personal preference, but my one hesitation is regarding that great big screen. I know they are called Manual CINEMA so that’s what you should expect, but in this complex artwork, with so many interesting things going on, my eye was constantly led back to that screen, to the point that it barely mattered how the images got onto it, or what the creative activity in the background was. I loved the live puppetry, but I found myself watching it digitally, filtered, and it looked like many of the children in the audience were doing this too. Which kind of begs the question, why do it live and in a theatre at all? Should the MANUAL bit be just as important?
It’s great that the working process is available to see – it’s inspirational! But in order for it not to get lost behind the cinema aspect, perhaps the distribution of focus needs to find better balance? I’d love to see those fluffy great monsters come right to the front of the stage at some points, rather than staying tucked away towards the rear.
That aside, this truly is an excellent production. Well done, Manual Cinema, on an amazing piece of work!
Created by: Manual Cinema
Original book by: by Mo Willems
Adaptation by: Sarah Fornace and Drew Dir
Directed by: Sarah Fornace
Music, Lyrics & Sound Design by: Ben Kauffman and Kyle Vegter
2D Paper Puppet and Prop Design by: Drew Dir
Hand and Rod Puppet Design by: Lizi Breit
Costume & Wig Design by: Mieka Van der Ploeg
Lighting Design by: Trey Brazeal with Nick Chamernik
Dramaturgy by: Megan Alrutz
Leonardo! A Wonderful Show About a Terrible Monster plays at EdFring 2022 until 29 August. Further information and bookings here.