Puppetry has a quite magical ability to invite a suspension of disbelief, allowing us to imagine a different kind of world. The Blue Pool of Questions uses this quite beautifully. It’s an enchanting, crafted production that puts puppetry alongside stories and music from Palestinian culture to comment on the value of curiosity, questioning what society is like without freedom to think, and suggesting there is positivity in sometimes disrupting the status quo.
One day a colourful, solitary figure called Ashraq arrives in the grey city. He’s quite an unusual person, with blue hair and remarkable clothes. The many questions he brings with him accumulate to create a blue pool that upsets the everyday, making the townspeople behave differently. They are scared of the unknown, but must have the courage to make change. It is perhaps a somewhat political theme for a children’s show, but it’s presented in a highly accessible manner that is delightfully engaging for all ages, from very young people to adults.
An excitingly exotic tone is introduced from the off with the talented Kareem Samara playing wonderful original live music, largely on the traditional Palestinian oud. The atmosphere is unusual and a little thrilling; ideal for a tale about difference. Our narrator, Osama Al-Azza, engages the audience warmly, eyes sparkling in the darkness, as he invites them to lean in and listen carefully to the stories presented. The tales themselves are taken from Palestinian culture and adapted by Al-Azza along with Stan Middleton.
The stage is beautifully lit, creating striking focus for the use of both rod and shadow puppets. Puppeteers Middleton, Emily Dyble and Jessica Shead then perform expressively with precision and great skill, resulting in some wonderful characterisations. These range from the colourful bringer of hope Ashraq to the grumpy, negative neighbour whose world is preposterously grey and inflexible. There’s a delightfully funny dog who at times steals the show, munching on the question marks in the pool like bones. The fluidity of the puppet movement is highly impressive, capturing gestures of Arabic dance in hands and shoulders, and gliding through an imaginary lake with convincing agility.
The puppets themselves are beautifully designed and crafted (Sue Beattie, Sue Dacre, Stan Middleton, Jessica Shead and Lyndie Wright), and there is an additional extended air of collaboration about the production, with the costumes made using traditional methods, in conjunction with the Beit Jibrin Women’s Embroidery Project, based at a refugee camp in Bethlehem.
Unfortunately the production loses momentum somewhat with the introduction of a story within the story, told both in English and in Arabic. It’s admirable that both languages are recognised in the telling of the tale, but this choice causes lengthy sections of the narrative to be repeated, which disrupts the flow of the piece as a whole. On its own, the tale of Bulqash by Yara Bamieh, is a fabulous, fun piece of shadow puppetry, again commenting on how the world might be turned on its head, but slotted into the Blue Pool story it feels like the wider production overstretches itself.
Nonetheless, this is a magical fifty minutes to spend in the cosy comfort of the Puppet Theatre Barge, with or without children, and it is a truly impressive, skilled and charming performance that will leave you smiling.
Inspired by stories by Maya Abu Al-Hayat and Yara Bamieh
Adapted and directed by Osama Al-Azza and Stan Middleton
Music by: Kareem Samara
Puppet Direction by: Kate Middleton
The Blue Pool of Questions is recommended for ages 4+ and runs at the Puppet Theatre Barge until 7 May. Further information and bookings can be found here.