28 Mar

There’s a long tradition of the subversive puppet. Think Punch and Judy, Lamb Chop, Basil Brush, Agro. These puppet’s cheekiness and exuberance challenge adult norms. They’re like a personification of the Medieval Carnival; they turn the world upside with their irrepressible glee. Brash and insensitive, they topple convention with their childlike mischievous simplicity. It’s as if, when all the hobgoblins perished in the searing sun of the Enlightenment, they reincarnated as puppets.

I’ve often wanted to write puppet reviews, to respond to shows with a refreshingly impertinent naïve directness. My puppet personality would write that Waiting for Godot is “repetitive rubbish”, that Hamlet is “indulgent slop”, that this show is “puerile nihilism”.

But I’m not a puppet, and my response to theatre is more adult. (‘Adult’ as in considered and staid, rather than ‘adult’ as in naughtily scatological and profanely sex aware, which is the way the word is used when a show like this is described as an ‘adult’ puppet show. )

Richard Hilliar’s Apocka-Wocka-Lockalypse is a heap of crazy fun. It’s post-apocalypse, a disaster brought on by human greed. Melissa has found haven in a bunker, which she shares with four furry little monsters. She is part nurturing house mother, part controlling authority figure. She and her monster ‘friends’ play out a children’s TV show. There’s no audience; it’s as though by continuing familiar routines they can assure themselves all is right with the world. They sing songs, play games, read children’s books and Melissa is Miss Melissa, the kind and caring adult who gently guides her little monster friends. Well, at least that’s how it begins.

The puppets, initially, have had much of their subversive element drained out of them. They behave as grateful but cowed children. Brilliantly crafted by Ash Bell, they’re gloriously brought to life by the cast – Matt Abotomey, Lib Campbell, Zoe Crawford and Nathan Porteous. There’s a wonderful magic in being able to see both puppet and operator, a mesmerising echo between the puppet’s reactions and that of the performers. Nicole Wineberg’s Miss Melissa is comic genius, a terrific parody of the children’s TV presenter with a magnificent black comedy shadow.

Hilliar’s script is very funny, capturing both the absurdity of the situation and its growing darkness.

There’s a couple of absolute stand out moments. Crawford’s performance of Alexander Lee-Rekers’ very clever song “Maybe a Baby” is both hilarious and heartbreaking.  Wineberg’s reading of a children’s book that is surprisingly and delightfully petty-minded is a riot.

Bell’s set beautifully mimics that of children’s TV set, with its bright, bold colours and its symbols of hope.

But what happens in this space belies the brightness.

Asking if saccharine positivity is really the cure for our current crises or merely a façade for malignant, manipulative forces, Apocka-Wocka-Lockalypse is a deliciously dark comedy.

Paul Gilchrist

Apocka-Wocka-Lockalypse by Richard Hilliar

presented by Tooth and Sinew

at Meraki Arts Bar until April 1


Image by Clare Hawley

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