After success with 2014’s The Table, nimble-fingered puppeteers Blind Summit have returned this year with Citizen Puppet. A parody of verbatim theatre, the play is a mash-up of puppetry meeting true crime… mixed in with a fairy-tale, obviously. There’s a dead giant, a felled beanstalk, and Jack’s gone missing. The town is in uproar.
We’re introduced to the inhabitants of the idyllic town of Massieville, filled with middle-class respectability and not a lot else. Here we find locals such as Tina Henderson, a diehard Daily Mail reader, and someone who’s still reeling from the events which have shaken the “nice decent puppets” to the core. The audience meet other puppets such as DI Clive (the local policeman) and Suki Armstrong Chain (a local posh girl). Together the citizens of the town help to piece together the recent mysterious events, and eventually put on a production directed by Darren – a budding director and pill-popper – in an effort to try to “show what happens when a fairy-tale goes wrong”.
With a Massieville Morris dancer troupe and Massertati dealership, this is a great send up of middle England. However, there’s more to it than that; Citizen Puppet manages to weave in the financial crisis, with Jack as the unregulated businessman who’s made his money and, following a golden egg scam, has caused the beanstalk – the town’s main source of income – to come down. In a Fringe of over 3,000 shows, it’s a refreshingly different angle, which provides a base from which the brilliant puppetry can shine.
It’s a challenging format to work in, though. To give a sense of a real community, quite a few different puppet characters are needed – and since these all have to convey their personality, there’s not much room left for actual plot. That said, the different puppets are great caricatures, and the overall effect is satisfying as a performance.
Despite the mixture of fairy-tales and puppetry, Citizen Puppet is far from kids' theatre, and goes a long way in showing what can be done with the genre to create an accomplished play. Although plot isn’t a strong point the dialogue is well-written – and thanks to the likes of Daryl, Tina and Suki, I enjoyed it a lot. Don’t rush to move to Massieville though. As you'll soon realise, not everything is as it seems.