Suspense London Puppetry Festival
Pleasance Theatre, Islington
Thanks to traffic diversions and a taxing episode of premature ejection from the number 17 bus at King's Cross I missed the opening of Rust but it wasn't hard to pick up on the storyline and get into the spirit of things.
It is a tale of revenge, power, love and heroes told with boisterous good nature and a huge amount of energy. Set in a time when the world has an underclass of mutants, thuggy conjoined twins Jimmy and Mickey Limpet snort neat oxygen and run a pirate radio station from an old submarine. Meanwhile arch enemy Reverend Jellicoe drops missiles from his light ship on the seas above and threatens to unleash "the goats of war". Their enmity comes to a head when the two sides fight over the youth Spike, who has special powers, which brings in his love interest punk-girl Sidney and Lionel, paranoid supplier of illicit vinyl to Mutant FM.
Jellicoe is a repressed megalomaniac who has "found god, or was it cod". In a dream sequence he sermonises about spanking the naked bodies of "the feckless faithless, degenerates ... and civil servants" in a hilarious satirising of rightwing preachy evangelicals. His one-armed ex, the topless Linseed, is on the submarine too with her hen called Tony.
There are elements of Rust which you think must have been created under the influence of questionable substances but the script is erudite. It is grounded in story progression and is snappy and full of unruly humour. Mickey and Jimmy between them have five willies - "our underpants fit like a glove" they joke raucously.
The soundtrack, precisely delivered by technician Jon Street, is busy and complex, full of effects and scattered with the head-banging tracks of Mutant FM and the only minor complaint would be that it occasionally stifles the dialogue much of which is delivered at breakneck speed.
The cleverly conceived set is comprised of a network of cells at various levels, the doors of which open to reveal different settings and one of which is used to good effect for image projection. Another is a striking seascape the true value of which can probably only been recognised by those sitting at close quarters. The multi-talented cast of Dik Downey, Vic Llewellyn and Chris Pirie also come stage front to deliver musical entre-actes or in one of the final scenes to show off a model of the submarine sinking on a Pythonesque scissor action mechanism. For the most part it is all ingeniously effective and well matched to the fast-moving screwy spirit of the piece.
Rust is classily absurd anarchic stuff with a heart. That's a combination worth travelling for.
"Rust" is playing as part of Suspense London Puppetry Festival then until 15th November
Suspense London Puppetry Festival runs to 8th November in seven venues across London. Additional performances of sold out shows have been added. Refer to the website for up to date information and booking - www.suspensefestival.com
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti