The Puppet Theatre Barge is a unique and decidedly bewitching place. Moored on the water at Little Venice, it is an intimate, friendly theatre with exotic marionettes hanging from the walls. It’s a place of beauty and mystery; so it’s no surprise when, from the moment Pea begins here, enchantment takes place.
As puppeteers Eden Harbud and Bori Mezö begin their performance, the theatre lights themselves are captured, dimmed then conjured anew around the stage. Magic! We’re thus charmingly prepared for a creative and quirky version of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea, reimagined to bring the story brilliantly bang up to date.
Tiffany is anxious; really not keen to strap into her seatbelt and go to meet her new stepfamily for the first time. As a fairy tale specialist herself, she knows that stepmothers are routinely cruel: Cinderella and Snow White would back her up on that, right? At the unfamiliar house she can’t sleep, and so embarks on an epic quest to the bottom of the bed to find out what it is keeping her awake. Her exciting exploration uncovers a fresh understanding of her newly extended family.
This is an exquisitely produced piece of work. It intricately combines fantasy and reality, using stylish and imaginative puppetry, lighting and sound, to create a captivating storytelling environment. We’re taken on an enchanting, adventurous journey that perceptively engages with themes of anxiety and coping mechanisms, while smashing gender stereotyping and fairy tale tropes. Tiffany is an indisputable hero!
Reality and fiction become strangely disconnected as the characters, rather than speaking themselves, perform to an audio narration on a separate, beautifully fashioned soundtrack. This is captivating; drawing you in and holding your attention so you listen extra carefully. It’s as if an alternative story dimension is formed between imagination and reality, in which Tiffany embarks on a journey to tackle her dilemma.
New spaces and places are created by a deceptively intricate set, which transforms effortlessly and yet secretes all the props and scenery required for Tiffany’s adventure to the depths of the bed. The lighting throughout is also cleverly theatrical, used sparingly but surprisingly, to bring the story vibrantly to life. We see it viewed in different scales and sizes, taking us underwater or displaying the heights of a mountainous mattress.
Harbud and Mezö are flawless and engaging performers. They use wonderfully witty dialogue alongside highly expressive physical movement, which gives clarity to the tale. And there’s a delightful, varied range of puppets to be enjoyed, each distinctly and appealingly characterised. Tiffany herself is a gorgeous, finely crafted artwork, designed by Blythe Brett, but she encounters friendly helpers in other forms: there’s a bumbling, bemasked shepherd counting sheep, whilst the hilarious thieving bed bugs are fabulously fuzzy fun, blown up to an enormous size by Tiffany’s trusty magnifying glass. Others might simply be a performing finger, which enables possibility to an audience who might want to re-enact the story themselves at home.
In classic quest format, Tiffany overcomes many exciting challenges to find her way to the solution, and it really is great fun; hugely enjoyable for adults and children alike. Charming, clever and with sensitive modern relevance, Pea is a terrific tale, beautifully crafted and well told, that boldly goes where no puppet has gone before: to the end of the bed!
Created and devised by: Eden Harbud and Sam Williams for Nod at the Fox
Puppet and Set Design: Blythe Brett
Supported by: The Puppet Theatre Barge, Arts Council England, Cambridge Junction & The Curious School of Puppetry