Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

The Great Puppet Horn

Pangolin's Teatime
Suspense London Puppetry Festival
Pleasance Theatre
(2009)

Production photo

The Great Puppet Horn is an irreverently funny piece of shadow puppet theatre devised by the young Edinburgh company, Pangolin's Teatime.

A series of sketches are presented with barely time to draw breath in between, and the two puppeteers get through hundreds of puppets in the course of the show, tossing over their shoulders those they no longer need with charming recklessness. In addition to puppet figures, the pair make use of hand-drawn colour scenery projected onto the screen from acetates, and as a complement to the dialogue there is musical accompaniment carried via a sound-system with a wobbly connection.

The presentation has a slightly anarchic edge to it and if it weren't for the management of the precisely cut puppet figures - and the sheer number of them - you'd be forgiven for thinking that they were rather chaotic. The figures are cleverly designed with minimal detail but clear edges which is an approach that works especially well in the first sketch which is delivered at near-breakneck speed. The first sketch is arguably the most sharp witted, satirising Hollywood hard men who shoot first and ask later as they right the world's wrongs. In this instance our hero's mission is to destroy Mr A Postrophe who wants to upset Daily Telegraph readers with blatant misuse of punctuation. The script is hilarious with our masked champion correcting graffiti where a possessive pronoun has been used in place of a contracted verb and a Thesaurus turns out to be dinosaur.

In the first sketch a recurring gag concerning Nicolas Cage is set up which is fully developed in the second. In this, using bio-pic style, they work in every conceivable pun and joke with the word 'cage' at quickfire speed, but the pace and the frequency of the laughs slows from there on as the sketches become longer and more involved. The Duck Island Scandal is about MPs expenses with the absurd premise that ducks with eyes of "fearful symmetry" were extorting money from MPs; on the positive side it has an imaginatively designed duck palace set and the day is won against the ducks with bouncing croutons dropped on ponds to the theme of The Dam Busters. On the downside though, lots of screen-sized figures of MPs' heads with oversize moving mouths and a script low on big laughs and littered with references to "botties" is easy to tire of.

A sketch in which the Queen sends Cliff Richard and a band of Knights (Sir Alan Sugar, Sir Tim Rice et al) to fight in Afghanistan and one about Brown wanting to win the Nobel Peace Prize like Obama aim highest at political critique but, apart from odd sparks of creative visual ingenuity, they are overlong and largely miss their humorous mark, falling back on schoolboy jokes about haemorrhoid cream. Something similar could be said about the dancing tadpole sketch.

The design and use of the puppets is skilled and, as a technique, the simplicity of shadow puppetry is well suited to pacily delivered material with the immediacy of its impact. To bring the quality of the script into balance requires the judicious use of the knife used to create the silhouettes.

"The Great Puppet Horn" is part of the emerging artists programme of Suspense London Puppetry Festival which has been running in seven venues across London over ten days

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti