‘What do you do with two feminist puppeteers evicted from their home?’ Punch and Fleur, and their puppets Dog and Sid, live in a beach hut – illegally. They don’t make a lot of money from their Premier Feminist Puppetry Theatre in Thanet, and have no alternative to that tiny hut with a couple of beach chairs (but no water or electricity). Right at the start, we’re presented with an interesting nugget of information: Fleur has a degree and a part time job, which plants a delicious seed of curiosity about why this lesbian couple is in such dire straits.
The casual intimacy of the women is brought out beautifully, as they argue about chores, practice their puppetry for shows, and exchange playful anecdotes. But as winter settles in around them, their situation worsens, as the council sends them an eviction notice. Matthew Shore plays councilman Aidan very convincingly, as an uncomfortable graduate who is doing all this for the first time. As it turns out, Fleur and Aidan know each other from university. The plot thickens.
The production touches upon a lot of themes simultaneously – the challenges of being gay in a society that is still largely intolerant, the decline of British coastal towns, the crumbling of a relationship that doesn’t have very strong foundations, and the path lives take because of the choices we make. Despite the weight of these sombre themes, the play manages to integrate humour through the use of the dog and cat puppets – whose scripts for the show are very deep, like Shakespeare and Beckett, thanks to Fleur’s English degree.
The balance between the puppet dialogues and the women’s dialogues felt wrong to me: the opening could have been a bit shorter if the puppets had been quieter, and we’d heard from their owners instead. But the ending is very realistic, and quite delicately handled. I’m glad I caught this worthy show on the final days of its run.