THEATRE; A knot of tangled strings

Odd If You Dare / It Is My Mouth Forever Royal Court, London
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Doo Cot was the toast of last year's Barclays New Stages Festival, lauded for expanding the boundaries of puppetry. But the group has singularly failed to consolidate its skills. This year's show, Odd If You Dare, is technically execrable - the company appears to lack the intricate craft that makes puppetry an enchanting medium. Their puppets are life-size papier mache heads attached to items of clothing that ill-conceal their operators. Their movements are imprecise, and the action is frequently halted by clumsy scene-changes. These are covered by an inept soundtrack which fails to transport the listener; back projections and shadow play which reiterate the action without developing it; crude lighting lacking atmosphere; and sung interludes which are not sung well enough to disguise the lyrics' crassness.

All this could be forgiven if the ideas behind the piece were engaging. Instead, the company regurgitates hackneyed political naivety and, having chosen a leadenly naturalistic tale, fails to relate the narrative coherently. Doo Cot does not lack the ideas for formal innovation (the animal puppets made of scrap metal provide the most engaging moments). But it should not presume to revolutionise a craft in which it has no practical talent.

The performance artist and film-maker Annie Griffin, on the other hand, long ago realised that the skills of presentation are a basic requirement for anyone working with an audience. Dressed in a pink tulle ballgown with diamante straps, she talks boffin-speak about camera technique while behind her a Victorian erotic film is just visible. Griffin is adept at establishing dissonances between those who do, those who watch and those who are watched, though at times the boundary between challenging our perceptions and indulging her own fantasies seems fatally blurred.

The film she then presents is similarly self-referential, exploring conflicts between the domestic and the artistic life. Being under-funded, it has no sound-track: the joy of it is that Griffin herself and Jack Stew provide the voices and sound effects live, thereby embodying one of the themes (struggling artistry) in the form. Griffin follows her ideas through with single-minded assurance; ironically, the net result is a work that seems sparse. Technically accomplished as she is, perhaps her narrative needs embellishment. Now she has the technique, she can afford to play with it more.

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