Saturday, July 08, 2006

Puppets and Acrobats

Finally had the pleasure of seeing Avenue Q on Tuesday – and it was a pleasure. I can’t remember laughing that much in the theatre for a long while. Yes, a lot of what the critics had to say is true; it is hopelessly slushy, about three songs too long and it does lose something in the second half – but so what? A warm-hearted send-up of Sesame Street was never going to contain razor-sharp satire or relentless narrative drive. It does exactly what it set out to do, keep its audience entertained and send them happily out into the streets. I had a great time as did Laura, who came along with me.

The following night I went to check out the return of Vesturport Theatre’s Woyzeck to the Barbican. I remember being rather intrigued by this production last year when it was part of the Barb’s Young Genius season but never got around to going along. Since then Lisa and I saw, and adored, Kneehigh’s wonderful Nights At The Circus with the Icelandic Gisli Orn Gardarsson as the sceptical journalist Walser. That closing scene of Fevvers and Walser spinning in midair - reaching out to one another - was one of the most beautiful things I have seen on the stage this year.

Well, Gardarsson directed Woyzeck and the production contains many of the circus-influenced elements that Vesturport are renowned for and that, obviously, featured a great deal in Nights. This was the main draw for me - I love the gleefully physical nature of their work. I knew very little about Georg Buchner’s play before I went, and if I’m honest don’t think I came away from it knowing much more. The production contained some stunning moments, but it felt very episodic – perhaps inevitably given that Buchner died aged 23, before Woyzeck was completed, leaving only a series of fragmented scenes – and the whole thing was rather bemusing: the podgy Cupid character with a bow and arrow? The Godlike Elvis-impersonator chappie with the giant inflatable globe? I’m still none the wiser as to what they were there for. Still, the tragedy of the central story eventually shone through the oddness and the final scenes were rather disturbing - powerful and unsettling to watch. In other words, the antithesis of Avenue Q.

Woyzeck may have been dark and ambitious and pushed its performers to their physical limits, but if I were going to sit through either again it would be the one with the puppet porn!