Cloud Avenue

Sat 15th – Wed 26th July 2017

reviews

Mark Bogod

at 13:25 on 16th Aug 2017

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To the great variety of theatre available at the Fringe, we can now add late-night puppetry. A word of warning, do not go to this show expecting anything Avenue-Q. ‘Cloud Avenue’ feels more like a family entertainment sadly lumbered with a timeslot they didn’t really want. In it, a mixture of different types of puppets, acting, and other media come together to create at once charming sensory experience, but also, it has to be said, rather dull.

The show concerns Violet (Anya Ryan), a girl with an ability to time travel, albeit only back into her own past. Ryan’s acting was one of the strong points of the show, as she brought the audience into the world of her time-travelling mind and dreams. With three other members of the cast portraying her parents and her therapist, she takes us back into her childhood travels to China, India and Egypt.

The great strength of this show lies undoubtedly in its visual beauty. The shadow puppets are cleverly done, the props are wonderfully crafted, and the puppet of the child Violet is beautifully controlled by the cast as they show off their capabilities in the different movements and ideas they channel through it. The technical aspect of the performance is also faultless, with ingenious use of a projector and lighting, with Zoe Kent’s original score providing a suitably dream-like backdrop for the action. If you came to Edinburgh in search of a visually charming show, look no further.

What, on the other hand, this show was crying out for, was more of a plot. There were certainly themes there, ones of memory and nostalgia, but with such long sequences of wordless puppetry, something more was needed to tie it together. As it was, the interspersed scenes of the relationship between Violet’s parents was an attempt at comic relief, but was not enough to raise a laugh. For a family show, I fear that it cannot help being at least a little boring for child and adult alike.

If you go and see ‘Cloud Avenue’, your enjoyment will depend on what you are looking for. If it’s a calming contrast to the crude stand-up and satire found mostly at 11pm, look no further - you will certainly appreciate the craftsmanship and creativity on display.

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Clarissa Mayhew

at 20:07 on 16th Aug 2017

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Billed as a ‘multimedia puppet show’, Cloud Avenue merges multiple temporalities into a 50 minute production via the use of a variety of forms of puppetry to produce a tour-de-force props cupboard unfortunately lacking in plot.

Violet, the principle character and source of the patchwork of memories that serve instead of a narrative, comes across whiny and self-important, dismissing the other girls at school as interested only in boys and lipstick. Her interactions with her counsellor ring entirely false - an obvious excuse for exposition in an attempt to bring the otherwise inchoate streams of consciousness together rather than a convincing scene. The potentially rich subject matter of the complexities of navigating a sense of self through the accumulation of one’s past, present and future was undermined by the disappointingly mundane advice of the older man to ‘live in the present’. When the counsellor raises the serious question of abuse, it is hurriedly cast away, leaving the episode to seem a rather cheap and gratuitous dialogue filler.

The time travel machine itself was, however, very cool, involving a brass marble slide and an automatic bubble blower - high tech! Other stage decorations too were interesting and the theatre space itself was fantastic - spacious enhanced by a high ceiling. The music worked well and the projector representation of the Northern Lights was lovely and added an atmospheric touch to Violet’s travel memories. The parents’ costumes were delightfully retro explorer, though again their characters seemed fairly one-dimensional.

The combination of puppetry and character action merged together well in an impressively smooth flux. Paper dragons and giant fish helped to give a sense of difference to each of the exotic places Violet’s memories lead us to in her time travels - the sudden appearance of a bunch of floating body parts were more confusing. Were they a part of her dreaded dream? Where did they come from? How were they relevant to her otherwise blissful recollections of childhood trips? These issues never became clear - except, it seemed, to Violet, who suddenly declares her time travels days over.

The play left me at a loss. We were promised childhood emotions but instead watched a petulant teen retreat from real interpersonal connection into an imaginary world of shadows.

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