Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: The Table, Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh Fringe

Review: The Table, Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh Fringe

Published on Culture Wars, 23.08.2011

More interesting for its playful forms than any content they hold, The Table is a delightful, but insubstantial, puppetry smoker. A series of three distinct sketches, two of which take place on or just above a trestle table, it lacks the satisfaction of an overarching purpose, though, at a push, it could contain shades of Beckett’s Shorts.

First up, is an old man stuck on a table, as he has been for forty years. His puddingy cloth body is topped with an oversized head that resembles an origami Patrick Stewart. Though he’s preparing to portray a one-man biblical epic, he is in fact a clown with no material. So, in a gruff voice, he explains the basics of puppetry, talking us through the need for a fixed point – without which the law of gravity seems to lose its grip – and the focus and breath that give life to an inanimate object. It’s a charming deconstruction, wittily worded and hilariously demonstrated, there being very little more amusing than shoddy puppetry.

He’s a characterful little thing: knees wobbling when impatient, not quite sure what to do with his hands. Yet, the search for subject matter as he trots out the table’s vital stats still feels baggy, like a rehearsal room improvisation feeling its way. The introduction of a human, sat reading her diary unaware of his presence, suggests an alternate reality and sets up some elegant imagery, so it’s rather a shame that the spirit of gentle enquiry is dropped for a standard issue slow-motion action sequence.

It’s second is an unnerving spectacle, in which disembodied heads and hands swirl through and bounce around three picture frames. They look like those holograms you get in museums, only eerily anonymous and disjointed so that they, explode, evaporate and condense like misty spectres. It reminded me of Soft Cell music video elongated and quietly horrifying, but, with the puppeteers themselves concealed behind flats, there’s a suspicion that the mechanics might be more interesting.

Finally, a table-top cartoon, in which simple story – an arbitrary chase narrative – is told through series of marker-pen stills taken out of a briefcase in order. Though peppered with witty instances and a neat experiment in narrative minimalism, it’s a sliver of a piece that struggles to maintain momentum or offer anything more than momentary gags.

Featherwieght but, by virtue of simple pleasures within, forgivable, The Table is a stylish and self-contained hour.

Photograph: Nigel Bewley

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