Things have moved on a bit since Sooty and Sweep and Muffin the Mule. Puppets are now for grown-ups and some impressive things are happening with them. I suppose it was with War Horse that the serious possibilities of working with puppets really became apparent to the public – but there are many more companies developing their unlimited opportunities. Theatre Témoin, who are in the Studio Theatre at the Everyman Cheltenham seem particularly adept.
Their piece The Fantasist is the living nightmare of a young lady who is a patient in some sort of psychiatric establishment. Her world becomes increasingly peopled by the stuff of dreams – a blue frock-coat that metamorphoses into a strange, menacing but nevertheless suave ogre; a tiny, faceless figure which could be taken to be a foetus; two cupboard-dwelling heads and an evil crow-like apparition. The woman’s attempts to express herself through painting and perhaps rid herself of the torment are thwarted at every stage and she slowly loses all grasp of our reality as she is drawn mercilessly into her own. Her tormentors are all manifested as puppets operated by two mysterious black-clad shadows which add to the danger. The giant is very scary, the baby is loveable and the two talking heads are slightly Muppetty, all are chillingly convincing.
The story begins with another of the woman’s sleepless nights. Her nightmare starts to reveal itself when the bed she is lying on disappears before our very eyes as it is sucked into the malevolent and ever present wardrobe which will eventually also consume her. Which is the real reality? What is sanity, what is madness? Are they two side of the same coin? This is pure surrealism, the true surrealism that explores the unfettered and free roaming mind which is contemptuous of logic and has no fear of any consequences. And it’s true theatre. André Breton and Antonin Artaud would have been proud of them. ★★★★★ Michael Hasted