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I had the opportunity yesterday to review Blind Summit’s latest production “Henry”. A few years ago I saw an amazing production of theirs called “The Table”, which I was recommending to all and sundry. Be they interested in puppetry or not. The show worked on so many levels. And since then I’ve seen more of their work since,  which although may not have the strength of that initial show, were certainly rather innovative.

Blind Summit have been working in the Puppetry field for about the last twenty years. And are known for their take on extreme puppetry.  But maybe this time they’ve gone a little too extreme for the average Joe to appreciate or even someone like myself who has a keen interest in the puppet culture itself.

The tale involves a rather hunched, shuffling, intense and staccato spoken director called Luke (Mark Down). Who is assisted by two hooded German bunraku puppeteers called Wolfgang (Tom Espiner) and Steine (Fiona Clift).  It’s made to feel that you’ve just walked in on a puppetry workshop masterclass. And it mainly involves Luke coming to terms with his grief in relation to his father Henry’s death. The premise here is not a bad one, and one that could genuinely become quite extreme, moving or even unsettling. Alas, it doesn’t really achieve the heights it truly could ascend to and that unfortunately because of a couple of different reasons.  The main one I suppose is that it’s not really a puppetry show. Don’t get me wrong, when Henry’s performed he’s done quite well, but he’s sparingly ever used and in a matter of fact for the most part we are dealing with more of a subgenre of puppetry which is known as ‘object manipulation’. That’s what mainly being done here. And is literally what the name implies. Bag’s fly through the air, glasses break upon Luke’s head and there is some genuinely creative uses of refuse sacks being manipulated here. But I think this experience should have been more advertised as an object manipulation show. As I sat there in the beginning  with Luke introducing the piece, I became a little agitated after a while. The halting speech pattern that Down uses for his character here, does come across rather irksome very quickly. The show is also humourous, which is the vibe that’s supposed to emanate of Luke, and initially it does. But after a while of Down’s schtick and there being no evidence of any puppetry, even object manipulation; I was beginning to wane.

It’s a shame as there is a good idea here. The show could of been a little darker perhaps or some audience members could have been involved on stage to try and truly sell the nature of the workshop experience. Maybe it’s a similar case with the production I saw of “The Table” from a few years back (Which was also created by Down) as I believe it was a work in progress at that stage. That they were trying to find their feet with it and to see where it could be developed. So maybe Henry’s tale is not quite fully told…

Markus Helbig


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