The latest show from puppet theatre company Blind Summit goes from puppet stand-up to blockbuster movie effects in doodled form. Performed with deadpan precision, The Table is ambitious, unexpected and funny, a lovely opening for the London International Mime Festival.
The opening sequence stars a single puppet, with padded body and a detailed head created from folded cardboard. He’s worked by three people, with artistic director Mark Down providing his voice. Standing on a plain trestle table, the puppet chats to the audience, warming up the house, promising “an evening of epic, Biblical puppetry. On a table.”
He keeps promising to enact the last twelve hours of the life of Moses – in real time – but gets sidetracked into explaining the logic and techniques of his own existence. “Interested in puppetry, madam?” he wheedles the front row, as his handlers tweak him into a hopeful chat-up pose. Whenever he gets back to Moses, he ducks away again, nervous of taking on such a huge role.
The conversational, confessional script is full of jokes. There is a danger that you’ll look away from the puppet to watch Down speak, but there are enough sight gags to draw you back. He teases Sean Garratt, one of his other handlers, for laughing. When the puppet tugs at Garratt’s beard, Garratt’s own hand is controlling the tugging. It still feels like an interaction between two people.
As Down, Garratt and Nick Barnes work on the puppet, Sarah Calver comes and stands at the table, much to the disgust of Moses. He starts by complaining, but is soon begging her to take his hand, even to touch his leg. At last he turns on her: “You’re dramaturgically inconsistent!”
The cardboard Moses is a fine creation, a tiny, lonely figure with a huge personality. He overshadows the next sequence, with disembodied heads dancing against a black background – clever, but slight. The show takes off again with its final sequence, a delirious narrative told entirely with pieces of paper snatched from a briefcase.
The puppeteers hold up A4 sheets one by one. This is French puppetry, they explain – so each takes out a cigarette. The paper story reveals scribbled characters, scenery and events. A sheet with a doodled bird is lifted into the air. A second sheet, pulled down from behind the first, is revealed as a bird dropping. The joke becomes a plot point: it lands on a car windscreen, causing an accident and kicking off the story.
The tale gets wilder and wilder, as discarded sheets pile up on the table. Explosions spread across several pages; characters climb multi-storey, multi-sheet buildings, or drift into dream sequences. It all ends with movie credits, which turn into a commentary on the show itself, as deft and witty as the rest of the performance.
Until 21 January. Box office 020 7478 0100.