Old Trout Puppet Workshop, York Theatre, until February 17th
My Two Pence
My Two Cents
By Josephine Lancaster
‘Twas op’ning night, and the aud’ence
Did chat and chitter in their seats:
Dark sat the stage, ‘ticipation,
The players and cheats.
Old Trout Puppet Workshop is a Calgary based creative team on tour. This production has ties in origin to France and Denmark, which for my eye does bleed wonderfully through in some of the clowning aspects. It’s beautiful to look at, browsing the programme, it’s difficult to pluck out one name from their design team to credit with what clearly pays off as a lot of hard work and creativity.
It’s a puppet show, with moving artwork on several large flats as the walls themselves, constantly rolling by to paint in the next scene. An impressive array of props or new characters, hand and body puppets, crafted and inhabited, are all very pleasing to look at. That’s what makes the content, or lack thereof, of any propelling narrative such a disappointment.
‘Jabberwocky’ is he nonsense poem from Lewis Carroll’s second “trip”, into Wonderland. Wonderland, where Alice, a girl, ventures bravely and alone on a journey of self and magical discovery, garnering admirers and facing down injustice. In turn, Old Trout, passively usurps a rare central, classical female role, replaced with the coming of age tale of a male hare, learning how, and here I’m horrified to guess at ‘become a man’. Any potential tie to Carroll’s Wonderland and ‘Jabberwocky’ itself is, at best, tenuous and unimaginative. They speak the poem at the beginning and perhaps at the end and allude to certain elements throughout, journeying through the ‘tulgey wood’ with ‘vorpal sword’ in hand, but as to any true expedition this ‘Jabberwocky’ is more an exploration of the trials of real life, not those of imagining.
Jonathan Lewis’s sound design is amusing and a fine accentuate to the slapstick and other action on stage. Our actors work as an enjoyable ensemble, however, they’re not sharp enough; the performances, movements, are not stylised enough as clowns or puppeteers to support the medium they’re in. This wouldn’t be so bothersome, in the lack of speech for example, if there was agency in this ‘trails of the circle of life’ narrative. Instead, we have multiple, overly long scenes, dragging themselves to places. It’s wishy-washy.
I could drone on about what appears to be the central lesson of the piece: that every man must abandon his family in order to face down his own ‘Jabberwocky’, and that settling in life’s fine but, I think you get the picture.
Being generous, two thirds into the show, I was wondering where and when it was going to end, and the running time’s only seventy minutes! “Jabberwocky” at York Theatre’s a slow burn, lovely to look at, but I can’t honestly say the moral is a good one.
By Emma Rossland
I have to say that I’ve loved Lewis Carroll’s eerily nonsensical “Jabberwocky” since my mum’s recitations of the poem throughout my childhood. Though many of the words are made up, the metre provides the poem with a sense of meaning that filled me with anticipation and a fear of “the jaws that bite, the claws that catch”. So needless to say, I went into the theatre with relatively high hopes for Old Trout Puppet Workshop’s production of “Jabberwocky”. The show was quite enjoyable and, though it did not live up to my high expectations, it was a delight to watch.
First I have to talk about the superb visual aesthetics. The absolute beauty of the show alone, makes it worth seeing. The set, puppets, and movement of the show are spectacular. Upon entering the theatre, the stage is set with canvases on which are painted the traditional red theatre curtains. Throughout the show these canvases are cranked to reveal the backdrops of every scene of the play. The set pieces are all hand-made and beautifully painted. They range from giant frogs and other creatures to living room furniture.
The puppets, themselves, are works of art. The majority of the puppets are 2D with players, Nicolas Di Gaetano, Teddy Ivanova, Pityu Kenderes, and Sebastian Kroon, carrying them and manipulating their movement. Two of the main characters, the young rabbit and his love interest, begin as 2D puppets when children, then change as adults. The four main characters: the parents, the young rabbit and the love interest, when grown, are played by the four puppeteers wearing rabbit head puppets. I’ve never seen puppets portray emotions quite as dramatically as these four rabbit heads. Their faces seem to really express true feeling. The actors are as much a part of that expression as the puppet heads. Costumes are simple and include coats or shawls that cover the actors’ heads, thus creating the illusion that the rabbit heads are one with the actors’ bodies. The actors’ faces, however, are visible to the audience and emphasize the emotions of their characters. The love interest’s original 2D puppet and the actor playing her when grown up are both wearing the same dress, which makes the transition seamless and easy for the audience to follow.
*This paragraph contains spoilers* Visually the show is exceptional although, unfortunately, it fails in the storyline. It was a generic story of a young rabbit’s growth into adulthood, littered with clichés of male incompetence. During his childhood he and his mother are abandoned by his father, who goes off to slay the Jabberwock and years later returns home. The young rabbit grows to adulthood and, like his father, leaves home to slay the Jabberwock, but gets wrapped up in a monotonous job and marries a young rabbit from his childhood. His life is that of a typical office worker, boring and unsatisfying. He eventually abandons his pregnant wife (like father like son) in search of the Jabberwock. He ends up back at his parent’s house, sees his father old and alone, then returns back to his wife and child, who eventually forgive him. Parts of this story seem to drag on for ages and could be shortened a great deal.
Other than a recitation of the poem in the beginning by the four actors (which was brilliantly done, as one by one they form a clump, moving in unison during the recitation) the show doesn’t have as much to do with Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” as I would have liked. There are some sound samples of the poem that came through the radio and TV in the rabbits’ living rooms to remind the characters of the Jabberwock, but not much else. It seems to be more of a metaphor than anything else. In fact, the Jabberwock could be a metaphor of several different things. The slaying of the Jabberwock could be the slaying of one’s own personal demons; the pursuit, tantamount to the chasing of one’s dreams. The first time the main character gives up the chase, he throws away his sword and likewise his dreams, settling for the drudgery of a ‘normal’ life.
All in all, despite the story being a bit lacking, the show is worth seeing, if just for the beauty of the craftsmanship. The metaphors, although not entirely clear, present something to think about. Perhaps the real slaying of the Jabberwock is realizing that the dreams you hold as a child aren’t realistic and sometimes the real dream is right before your eyes. Which begs the question, “hast thou slain the Jabberwock?”