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To Have or Not to Have?

TAMTAM Objektentheatre
Suspense London Puppetry Festival
Little Angel Theatre
(2009)

Production photo

Question: How much fun can you have watching a pair of old pliers? Answer: A lot if dextrous and creative manipulation reveals the pliers to have a greedy and belligerent personality that gets them into an argument with a similarly inclined stubborn mole trap. If their dispute is played out on a sand-covered landscape with a soundtrack reminiscent of a cowboy movie, the pliers' movement becomes imbued with a swagger that would make any Stetson wearer proud, and the whole story takes on a quintessentially western twist.

In TAMTAM's piece of object theatre the quarrel between the pliers and mole trap comes about because a small sack has been left in the desert by a bird-like tarnished wire basket with a whisk beak, and both protagonists desire to possess its contents, for apparently no better reason than they don't want the other to have it. Whilst a pair of shoe lasts play with it, some tatty garden shears flying overhead take a fancy to it and a patrol of rusty tools don't know what to make of it, the macho pliers and mole trap fight over it.

When the inevitable standoff is reached the mole trap and the pliers entrench themselves inside floorboard fortifications; the pliers have a fort-like construction complete with battlements, whilst the mole trap has a moated structure with a trowel drawbridge and a turret engineered from motor parts. With the aid of accomplices the sought-after bag changes hands back and forth by deceit and other foul means and no amicable conclusion seems likely.

The careful selection of objects, the agile wit of the handling and inventiveness of the movement design, one could say choreography, is deceptively charming because ultimately the enemies emerge from their corners, mounted on clothes irons like two jousters, and there ensues a fight that can only have one outcome.

In the end, the mole trap and pliers lie dead in the sand, two clashing powers who have brought about their mutual destruction. Near their bodies, two characters work together to open the bag and its contents is finally revealed. The understated climax ends the show, leaving everyone to find their own meaning.

The visual images are so ingeniously devised and skilfully created that no words are required to supplement the precise expressions, movements and sounds of the object operators in their manoeuvring of the pieces with which they appear naturally conjoined. The detailed soundtrack is subtly complex but precise and effective, evoking atmospheres and changes of pace.

The clarity of the storytelling and visual imagery of To Have or Not to Have? has a cartoonlike simplicity but its narrative strength should not be disregarded. Without moralising the objects deliver a serious message about human failings - for all its apparent concern with unremarkable and discarded items, in the skilled hands of Gérard Schiphorst and Marije van der Sande there is nothing rubbish about this object theatre.

TAMTAM Objektentheatre delivered a workshop and gave a performance of "To Have or Not to Have?" as part of the Suspense London Puppetry Festival which has been running in venues across London

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti