We all know Ted. You know him as the elderly next-door neighbour, or the now-retired librarian that recommended books to you when you were growing up. Ted is someone’s grandfather, someone’s former colleague. In the first five minutes, without any words, it has been established that everyone in this packed audience knows and loves Ted.
But Ted is also a puppet. 4 feet tall, white, with bright blue eyes and thick rimmed glasses, he is carried on to stage and placed gently in the chair by Matthew Lloyd – dressed in all black, and acting the part of a carer. By way of a synthesized voice, Ted tells us that he has been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND), and his muscles are degenerating.
The rest of the show is a flashback to this point. Ted is a stamp collector, and there are moments of innocent hilarity as he carefully catalogues his collection and shares a special bond with his fish. One day, he cannot raise his hand at an auction – and thus begins a series of visits to doctors, a battery of tests, and the final diagnosis. But Ted is not one to cower, and he decides to have a ‘bloody good time’ doing the things he always wanted; he goes travelling with his fish, meets a lady, spends some wonderful days out with her and creates some beautiful memories.
What struck me most about the production was the attention to detail. Each postcard Ted receives is properly addressed; the file he collects stamps in is marked on the spine. The lady he meets (also a puppet, mostly held by Molly Freeman) has an adorable habit of adjusting her glasses woven into the storyline – genius! The medical tests are also handled very creatively, especially when blinking and flashing lights signify the loss of the muscular impulses.
I found it somewhat distracting that we’re able to see the cast when they shine lights behind the screens, but aside from that one issue, this is an incredibly well-thought-out show. The three human performers coordinate the movements of the puppets perfectly, and the compassion they show towards the puppet Ted is heart-warming.
The audience, meanwhile, is won over by Ted’s simple desire to travel, and his upbeat approach to a debilitating disease. He maintains that desire even as the care worker's visits extend to feeding his beloved fish, then to equipping him with a walking stick, and finally a wheelchair a neck support to hold him upright. When the actors place him in the chair and fade away, the inevitable is here.
If you have ever had a loved one suffer from a terminal disease, this will be beautiful and painful at the same time. And the awareness that Ted is a puppet, who cannot move without help, itself helps bring home the reality of living with MND. There wasn't a dry eye left among the audience at the end of this inspiring production.