BRUCE

Thu 6th – Sun 30th August 2015

reviews

Simon Fearn

at 09:23 on 9th Aug 2015

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From the award winning Tim Watts and Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd comes a show where the protagonist is a yellow block of foam! Mixing mime, puppetry and surrealist humour, Bruce is a slice of uncomplicated silliness.

The production revolves around the adventures of useless everyman Bruce, who we first see about to crash a rocket. A zany and convoluted plot ensues to explain how he got there, and if it’s possible for him to be saved.

The main draw undoubtedly is the group’s fabulous physical characterisation. The puppeteers told their story with Nixon-Lloyd operating the aforementioned sponge-like puppet, and Watts wearing a black morph-suit to act as the sponge’s ‘body’. A sponge with eyes was magically transformed into a vast array of characters, and somehow it was utterly convincing. The inanimate object became almost as expressive as a human face. Sponges should really be considered for more major roles.

The minimal staging of the yellow foam and black backdrop were a surprisingly effective canvas for Bruce’s escapades, with background music helping to set the scene. True, there were moments where the mime was confusing and it was difficult to tell what was going on, but soon after you were bound to be smirking at the next visual gag. My favourite was the sponge’s head drifting away from its body as Bruce discovered drugs.

The vocal talents of the pair kept up the energy levels, channelling the brash cartoonish humour that defined the play. Enjoyably overblown characters were created, including a vengeful ex-cop, an overbearing Irish barmaid and Bruce’s skittish girlfriend.

The plot was probably a little bit too silly for its own good, and the wit wasn’t exactly sharp, but the production compensated for these faults via sheer wackiness. It’s not often that cop drama, thwarted romance and time travel feature in the same show. The original script’s clever structure actually made the ridiculous high jinks fairly gripping, and the sweetly satisfying ending is also bound to make audiences smile.

Whilst Bruce’s epic voyage is not likely to take your breath away, it’s charming and wonderfully daft. And it is a rare opportunity to become emotionally involved with a sponge.

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Izzie Fernandes

at 10:07 on 9th Aug 2015

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Entering a very dark black box studio with two guys wearing full on black bodysuits, I immediately felt distinctly removed from the buzzing street outside. The world of Bruce was absorbing from the word go.

This was almost like watching a screen, since the intensity of the bold spotlight and the precision of the physical theatre in this two-man puppet show left no space for props or set; There was nowhere else for the eye to wander. Although literally a square, yellow head, Bruce was so alive and so much more than the talking yellow sponge which he in fact was.

The performance effectively used physical and vocal manipulation, mime and puppetry which immediately led Bruce into transcending the status of a mere puppet. Though the cartoonish face, and enormous mouth mirrored a combination of Bart Simpson and SpongeBob Square-Pants, unlike his cartoon doppelgangers Bruce seems unlikely to appear on Nickelodeon.

In this simply staged highly stylized performance, the actors did not shy away from the nitty gritty of real life. The piece presented an episodic account of Bruce’s misdemeanours – a layer of emotional complexity to the otherwise heart-warming familiarity of the charming sponge. Behind Bruce’s humorous exchanges and endeavours as an astronaut, an unwanted fiancé and a deep southern American thug, sex, drugs, alcohol and an unwelcome pregnancy opened thoughts which bore interesting contrast with the grins of this bright yellow puppet.

The performance also amusingly incorporated aspects one might expect of a children’s show. The range and tone of the vocals which the actors expertly deployed could have been mistaken for a Disney film voiceover. These guys’ capacity to employ wonderfully precise vocals to communicate Bruce’s bizarre, twisted story absorbed the audience into an almost childlike trance.

So, do not be fooled – this puppetry is not show to be taken lightly. The fragmentary narrative and dialogue was at times complex and hard to follow. That said, I was able to engage with the deep themes of life and death which gradually emerged. A Lion King-esque baptism gave rise to the emergence of philosophical consideration. Thus, although seemingly light-hearted, Bruce brought forth serious consideration of mortality.

So, overall Bruce is a captivating and original performance with a fast-paced script. if both puppet and vocal mastery and originality appeals, this hour is certainly worth your time.

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