Henry

Sat 11th – Sun 26th August 2018

reviews

Olivia Cooke

at 08:37 on 13th Aug 2018

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As the lights came up on stage, two shadowy figures dressed all in black walk silently onto the stage. Their faces obscured with a veil, they lingered at each side of the stage as Mark Brown (also, the director of the production) arrived down the aisle, performing the role of Luke Alexander, master puppeteer.

Described as a “theatrical memoir”, ‘Henry: A Puppet Possessed’ depicts the director’s own personal odyssey as him and his “assistants” / puppeteers delve into Brown’s past – specifically, that of his complex relationship with his father. Citing his performance as a “full Edinburgh ego-trip”, Brown drew the audience into an evocative and deeply moving exploration of his own grief following his father’s death.

The production ran like an acting master class, with Brown breaking the fourth wall repeatedly by explaining to the audience as to what he and his fellow puppeteers were going to do. Commanding the space with surety, Brown and his puppeteers (Stina and Wolfgang) used items that belonged to Brown’s father to evoke his spirit. In one such scene, the trio created a ritualistic circle in which they summoned the ghost of Brown’s father. Echoes of the witches’ gathering in ‘Macbeth’ rang throughout the episode.

The use of puppetry throughout the performance was symbolic – each item on stage had a unique meaning behind it. By relaying private introspective reflections to the audience in such a public manner, they allowed us to actively establish a connection between (as Brown put it), “[a] confrontation between my heart and your imaginations.” This certainly wasn’t an easy piece of theatre to watch: the audience had to remain constantly alert as to whether or not we would be the next “puppets” used by Brown to articulate his story.

Despite Brown’s incredibly enigmatic performance coupled with the excellent puppetry work of Stina and Wolfgang (Fiona Clift and Tom Espiner), at times the performance became very confusing to watch. Its “avant-garde” narrative structure and Brown’s frequent direct confrontations with the audience created a viewing environment that kept me on edge throughout. I could not be fully secure as to what was going on on-stage, and I felt like I was intruding upon a very intimate and personal moment of private grief.

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India Greenland

at 08:51 on 13th Aug 2018

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‘Henry: A Puppet Possessed’ can be summed up in one word: bizarre. Described as “extreme puppetry”, director, writer and principal actor Mark Down explores the boundaries and pushes the conventions of puppeteering in this highly original and innovative piece. In his extended introduction, Down says that what we are about to see is a confrontation of art and imagination. Perhaps my problem was that I didn’t have enough of the latter to appreciate the former, but this piece did not engage or resonate with me.

It’s hard to describe the content of ‘Henry’, but the basic premise was a masterclass in puppeteering by lead Mark Down, who uses objects inherited from his father, a famous actor, to teach his two pupils. A key element is also the exploration of the experience of a child growing up not knowing his father and the long lasting effects of this. This summing up doesn’t really do the storyline justice, however. Really, this show could be about anything.

There were some genuinely hilarious moments in this show, even if the whole thing was very odd. Down is definitely a charismatic and talented performer, and the audience did laugh a lot. However, for a lot of the show, Down just describes what is happening on stage (“I’m putting my arm through a window”), which got slightly boring after a while.

The award winning group ‘Blind Summit’ clearly had interesting ideas. The casual opening of this show, for example, was interesting: the lighting didn’t change and the three characters just walked on and started before anyone really knew what was happening. It set the tone for the relaxed, lesson- like atmosphere, where Down literally made sometimes banal, sometimes comedic and sometimes just strange comments throughout. The performance centred on Down, his character’s puppeteering lessons and his relationship with his father. The other two characters were not even seen, with their heads covered in black hoods throughout for some hard to fathom reason.

The puppet lesson was taught with a granny bag and dagger, items which almost became puppets themselves as the students were taught to with them. However, the only traditional ‘person puppet’ (the father), was limited to about four short appearances, which seemed odd for a puppet show. That being said, the moment when the ominous father figure (made of what looked like a bin bag) puppet spread out to fill the stage was very effective.

‘Blind Summit’ have some great work, but I think they slightly missed the mark with this show. I found it dragged a bit and ultimately was just slightly too confusing to really engage people.

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