The Table (Traverse, 3rd Feb ’16) part of the Manipulate visual theatre festival

Edinburgh, UK. 17/08/2011. Fringe First winners, Blind Summit, present "The Table", starring Moses, the Bunraku table puppet, who is ably assisted into being by Mark Down, Nick Barnes and Sean Garratt. Photo credit: Jane Hobson

“One of the most wonderful performances I have ever witnessed”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

One table, one puppet, three men, no strings. And one of the most wonderful performances I have ever witnessed.

While it might seem quite basic, this spectacular puppet show (which could also be classified as stand-up comedy – more on that later) is a tour-de-force in keeping theatre simple yet incredibly effective. Within seconds, the carefully constructed cardboard face and cloth body became an intriguing old man whose every word and movement held me completely captive. And for a show an hour long, that’s no mean feat for something with no pulse.

The puppet began by introducing us to his table – his home – pointing out the garden, his vegetable patch, and where it might be extended to grow more carrots. All the while, he kept us entertained with witticisms most comedians would be proud of, and a dash of audience interaction to keep us all on our toes. And it’s all delivered so naturally, I was completely transported into the world of the table.

Yet while the slow and sometimes inappropriate ponderings of a confused old man were a delight in themselves, the crux of the performance lay in its original purpose – to retell the story of Moses’ saving of the Israelites and his eventual death on the mountainside. In this guise we see him humble, we see him angry and we see him defeated. We see him battle against the elements and lie down to sleep (which is far more difficult for a puppet than it may be assumed). And when he finally leaves the table, I genuinely felt lost and upset to say goodbye. Perhaps this says something about my childish tendencies, but the sell-out crowd of all ages seemed just as moved as I was.

The hands and voice behind this masterpiece – Nick Barnes, Mark Down and Sean Garratt – lovingly move every centimetre of the puppet with precision in care, and always in sync, down to their own breathing. What was particularly enjoyable about their roles were the playful and apparently improvised moments of the show, where the performers joked with and challenged each other to keep up with the pace. At one stage the poor puppet’s hand fell off, probably by accident, but this was covered and managed very well, even if the performers found themselves creasing up with infectious laughter.

About two minutes in I was hooked and thought this show has the potential to launch itself into my top ten favourite things I’ve ever seen on stage, and by the end it had firmly secured its place. Simply masterful.



Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 3 February)

Go to The Table at Manipulate and Blind Summit

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LoopsEnd (Traverse, 2nd Feb ’16)


“A visual feast”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Outstanding

I have seen many spectacular aerial displays over the years, from companies all over the world,  and with their latest work, LoopsEnd, Edinburgh and LA based Paper Doll Militia is definitely right up there with the best of them in terms of risk, precision and wow-factor. However, while technically the gymnastics were great, I was a bit disappointed by the overall cohesion of the work.

A performance in two parts, the first half, Ashes, was inspired by the tearing down of an industrial estate where the group used to rehearse. The main visual element of the piece was two long ropes hanging from the rigging, twisted and weighted down with bags of powder. Even watching the ropes untwist and retwist in the empty space was graceful and compelling, and when combined with George Tarbuck’s stunning lighting design and the trademark tricks and treats of a seasoned aerial company, this piece was, at times, nothing short of a visual feast.

Throughout the performance, white powder was used in various ways to represent the “ashes” – one performer literally had a pile on his shoulders in the opening sequence, while the closing image was of the two bags attached to the hanging ropes slowly emptying as the ropes swung in the space. These individual instances were very powerful visually, but it was difficult to see the link between these, and any sort of narrative or progression within the piece. Indeed, many of the “theatrical” devices seemed under-developed and incomplete: there were too many moments of clichéd wide-eyed wonder and writhing around in angst, and at one point one performer walked back and forward many times, overtly undecided about whether to touch the rope. Such basic and overused devices unfortunately offset the splendorous vision of the other sections.

In the second piece, Unhinged XY, projection was also used, which in some ways added another dimension to the visual smorgasbaord, but in others gave a seemingly unnecessary layer of complexity and confusion to the action – again, it often wasn’t clear how the costumes, music, acrobatics, projections and design all married up.

The aerial silk work in this piece, and the use of wind and fabric combined to make some stunning visuals and standout moments. When one performer walked up a hanging piece of silk, weighted at the bottom by another, while competing with gusts around her, I was awestruck by the strength and artistry on show.

It was a bit of a shame that both pieces relied quite so heavily on overpowering recorded sound and music. While at some points it was great in setting and supporting the overall tone of each section, its constant use meant the work was unable to establish a mood for itself, so I would have preferred a more selective and sensitive approach to the aural aspects of the performance.

Overall, there’s no denying the talent and visual creativity that have earned Paper Doll Militia their excellent reputation. However, LoopsEnd left me somewhat hanging in mid-air, rather than applauding with my feet flat on the ground.



Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 2 February)

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