Most of the seats in the McGuire Theater are currently occupied by local puppets who have come to see a movie.
Behind the screen they gaze upon, there is an entirely different set of puppets, envisioned and created by the British company Improbable Theatre and various collaborators from other corners of the world. This week-end, the Walker will host the first showing of their latest work-in-progress The Devil and Mister Punch.
I had the good fortune to peek at a rehearsal for their newest theatrical adventure and I can’t wait to see more.
Perhaps I should confess. Even if I hadn’t had the opportunity to peruse the giant table of puppet heads, watch director Julian Crouch and performers work on a scene where Mr. Punch tosses his baby out the window and chat with costumers who were sewing charmingly tiny suits for puppets to wear, I would still be tremendously curious to see this piece.
Improbable has a way of making stage magic from very simple materials. 70 Knotting Hill was the story of a haunted house created mostly with sticky tape. In their piece Spirit, an ensemble of just three actors sometimes animated puppets with heads as absurd as bread, cameras or guns on the simplest of stages. With Animo, Improbable recruited the help of local performers and improvised the entire show on the spot.
They’ve also done work on a very large scale, Satyagraha was a collaboration that included opera singers and aerialists.
What’s exciting about Mr. Punch is that the audience gets to be close to the company (we’ll sit in the space that is the McGuire stage) and we’ll watch a performance of a work that is not yet finished. Though the team has been experimenting with ideas for over a year, the piece will undergo a more lengthy period of rehearsal in New York this summer.
And it seems fitting to get a glimpse of this particular piece as it is shaped. Two of the main characters, Punch and Judy, have been featured in puppet shows since the mid-1600s, so they are part of a puppet conversation that has been happening for hundreds of years. But on the hands of Improbable Theatre’s puppeteers we are sure to see them in a new light.