Concertina for the Gods - puppetry review by Sita Thomas

Wednesday 2 November 2011, 8.00pm, 30 minutes running time
Webber Douglas Studio, Central School of Speech and Drama

Understanding that Watson’s piece was originally presented at The First World Festival of Puppetry Schools, I went to the theatre with particular expectations concerning puppetry – that it would contain the handling and manipulation of objects by actors to tell a story. My expectations were completely blown out of the water, being replaced by the spirit of what Watson has coined ‘Ephemeral Animation’. An iconic example of such work is the floating bag scene in American Beauty – an object is animated by a natural force and is framed for an audience to view.

In her position as Creative Research Fellow at Central School of Speech and Drama, the performance was part of Watson’s research concerning the life and death of objects and puppets. Her piece explores the relationships between human and object, control and submission, manipulation and abandonment.

The setting is a black studio space with a table as the centrepiece, covered in a sheet of paper towards which a projector is aimed. The space is lined with objects – a rack of umbrellas, a clothes rail, helium-filled red balloons, spinning tops and yo-yos. As the audience enter, three women (Nenagh Watson, Isabel Lyster and Jemima Yong), all dressed in black, are playing a game with an object… or is the object playing them? They shift around the space following the movements of a football; they keep it in the air as it bounces off their hands.

The piece begins with video footage locating us in ancient Japan, and one of the women is ritualistically dressed in a kimono by her fellow performers. Without knowing that the piece is inspired by Dennis Silk’s writing ‘The Marionette Theatre’, one may struggle to grasp at a narrative, but once you surrender yourself to the images that are presented by the performers and their engagement with the objects on stage, it becomes clear that the objects create the through-line, their movement is the focus of the piece.

The most interesting performative moments were realised when in fact the performers relinquished control of the objects so that one object could affect another: the release of a balloon with a yo-yo attached to it, and the effect of the wind from an umbrella on a helium balloon created moments of astonishing freedom and beauty.

As a piece of theatre, the production needed a stronger focus on narrative in order to allow the audience to engage with the work more fully – emotionally and intellectually. However, once I abandoned my desire for clearer storytelling I allowed the images that the objects and performers were creating to lead me towards a sense of enjoyment. Watson voiced that her aims were not targeted towards audience experience, rather they were to further her research and I believe this was achieved.

A strong exploration by three women – it was recognised in the post-show discussion that the piece would have been very different in tone, energy and style with a male performer – that left me observing and discovering objects in natural settings in a completely new light.

Nenagh Watson
Isabel Lyster
Jemima Yong

Collaboration between Nenagh Watson, Isabel Lyster and Jemima Yong
Inspired by writer Dennis Silk
A Barking Dog production

Concertina For the Gods was part of the SUSPENSE London Puppetry festival 2011. Find out more:

(c) Sita Thomas 2011

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