Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Perô, Unicorn Theatre

Review: Perô, Unicorn Theatre

Published on Culture Wars, 06.10.2008

Ask a British actor about their first experience of theatre and expect tales of wide-eyed wonder and pantomime dames. Given such formulaic frivolity, how refreshing to find children’s theatre so freeform, so sumptuously continental as Speeltheater’s Perô (or the Mysteries of the Night) at the Unicorn Theatre.

Based in Holland, Speeltheater (literally Theatre Game) have been making children’s theatre for over 30 years, colliding puppetry, music and dance in playful performance. No surprise, then, that Perô, Guus Ponsioen’s charming adaptation of Michel Tournier’s Pierrot ou Les Secrets de la Nuit, is a skilful balance of delicate storytelling and broad tomfoolery.

Using doll-like puppets, two performers (Inez de Bruijn and Tim Velraeds) enact a commedia dell’arte love triangle between baker Perô, his sweetheart Columbina and the lusty Paletino. It is essentially a touching, dainty fable about the attraction of opposites. Living in identical neighbouring houses, flour-coated Perô and spotless Columbina lead opposite lives of whiteness – he bakes nocturnally, she washes clothes by day. The explosion of noise and colour that arrives with Paletino the painter is enough to entrance Columbina. Their whirlwind marriage and elopement is enough to break Perô’s heart forcing him to close up shop due to lovesickness.

As the story is so quaintly predictable and its puppets more demonstrative than emotive, we do not find ourselves caught up in its narrative. Instead we are whisked into the world of the performance itself, played out with fervour and playground flirtation between the gently ghoulish de Bruijn and Velraeds, as they side with characters and vie for our attention.

Most enchanting, however, is the rich totality of the design. Two gorgeous dolls’ houses, outlined with a softly macabre Tim Burton quality, contain an array of tiny surprises, from working washing machines to chimneys spilling wisps of smoke upwards. Nor are Speeltheater afraid to take on large-scale theatricality: an entire fold-out countryside transforms through the seasons until Columbina, returning to Perô, finally succumbs to a snowy wilderness.

There are hints of classical epic theatre at play here as well, with Annemarie Haas and a delightfully melancholic Ponsioen overseeing proceedings as the celestial bodies, offering up an opulent musical score making Perô as pleasing on the ear as the eye.

With its warmth and passion, Perô is the theatrical equivalent of a sun-soaked, gelato-filled Mediterranean family holiday.

Photograph: Speeltheater

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