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the sublime of the puppet

I was feeling a bit floaty and spaced after my therapy session and didn’t really want to go across town to Battersea but I’m glad I did. Battersea Arts Centre can be patchy at times. I’ve seen some stinkers there. I’ve seen some good stuff.

But LowLife by Blind Summit was the best thing I’ve seen in the theatre for years. There is something brilliant and unsettling about really good puppeteers. Although each of the (sometimes tiny) puppets had three people working them – you completely ignore the huge humans and concentrate on the little wooden figure. The human need to project is so strong that we fill in ALL the gaps. The moving eyes, the lips, the gestures. All this becomes perfect and expressive even though the little wooden features don’t move at all.

LowLife is a cabaret. Four or five breathtaking sketches held together in a loose narrative haze. The Kevin Spacey look-a-like who longs for his missing wife. The cleaner who is possessed when she reads books. The mini plumber who becomes Tom Cruise. The boozy ex-singer who drinks during the day. (Not forgetting the entire cast of little blue men who make up the Afternoon Film).

But I was totally transported. And – much to Simon’s unease – noisily weeping by the end.

In a way puppets are better than actors. Sometimes the sheer physical realness of the actor on stage gets in the way of my projection. The characters can’t hold all my emotions because the actor’s reality gets in the way. A puppet is much more suited to absorb all the emotions I project. So the sadness, the excitement, the joy, the despair was all much more perfectly embodied.

The footage does nothing to capture it really. Because it’s something to do with the real presence in space and time, in the dark, in the moment. When the lights came up and the actors took their bow, there was a strange sense that they hadn’t done all that – (though of course they had). Their technical brilliance had flowed into the puppets. In a way being a puppeteer is very selfless. Three people are erasing themselves to create one illusion. And yet its the illusion that we all connect with… Strange and brilliant. At the BAC till this Saturday and then around the world.

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