LAT Children’s Puppet Festival
Roll up, roll up to see the most talented rubbish in town! Here at the Little Angel Theatre’s Children’s Puppetry Festival the Suitcase Circus is in town. Hosted by sock puppet Wobulous Discombobulous (or Bob to you and me), and ably assisted by his discreet support system, Oliver Smart, this is definitely one of the silliest shows you will see this week.
In the spirit of circus, vaudeville and cabaret, this is an absurd and delightful one man (and several puppets) show. It encourages the audience to embrace illusion and imagine spectacle, despite all the acts being made out of bits of junk.
From within a box hidden behind a theatrically suspended tailcoat, some unlikely characters emerge, with the running order including a dancing milkshake straw, a singing teapot, a snake made of ties, and a pair of critical shoes. And so much more.
We’re encouraged to celebrate the achievements of these artistes, fabulously characterised by Smart. It’s all very simply staged, but the characters are so delightfully engaging, each with a distinct backstory, that within moments the audience are giggling; conspirators in the pretence of spectacle. There’s Bob himself, who has the audience in the palm of his…instep? Then there’s the rather nervous but loveable magical Mexican hat-frog Timrek the Fantastico, who delights us all by coughing up extensive quantities of feathers. We also have the spectacular Limbago, a death-defying driving glove, whose thrilling bravery elicits thunderous applause.
The fun is enhanced by live music, largely created using a kazoo, a harmonica and a foot-operated bell. This adds to the slightly exotic, peculiar atmosphere, and the curious sounds are highly amusing to the young audience, who additionally get to sing along with our diva teapot. One lucky volunteer only narrowly escapes being hypnotised by a mysterious tie snake.
The actually puppetry, when you get past the illusion of rubbish and nonsense, is highly impressive. You would genuinely believe that the milkshake straw needs to push against the stage to spring upwards, or a potato sack is exhausted from its dazzling acrobatic routine. There is magic in the mundane as weight and gravity are reconfigured, so we’re in a space where anything is possible: a space to be creative and to question what is being seen. Underneath it all, this is learning the best way: through playfulness and laugh out loud enjoyment.
Admittedly, some of the changes of puppets between scenes are a bit slow, the gap filled with chat or music and little visible action, but this isn’t really a problem because the audience are keenly rooting for the little circus and just acknowledge it as part of the rubbish process. And this rubbish process is one that flourishes beyond the stage, as they are all encouraged to go and make things out of found objects in their own homes.
Now, let’s just take a moment to recognise the unique possibilities that happen in the Little Angel space. As the show ended some children in the audience felt able to ask questions about the puppets and discuss the show, including the parts they’d played in it, and although this was totally impromptu Smart took considerable time to listen and talk about the play long after it had ended. This is the second time this week at LAT I’ve seen performers stopping to speak with children post-show, listening to them and giving their curiosity validity – confirming they’ve been seen. It’s a beautiful, respectful thing and can be really empowering for young people. There is really nothing rubbish at all about that.
Designed and Directed by: Oliver Smart
Suitcase Circus has completed its current run. You can find out what else is playing as part of the Children’s Puppetry Festival here.