Take three puppeteers, some cardboard and some curtains, and what do you get? A very entertaining and intriguing little man. The Table makes no apologies for the fact that it is presenting a seemingly vacant and plain plot - ‘puppetry on a table’ - and that that's exactly what it is.
Working as the arms, legs, bum, head and voice of our main protagonist, Mark Down, Nick Barnes and Sean Garratt form a very believable creation. The production comments on itself quite regularly, outright stating that the little man we see before us isn’t ‘alive’, he isn’t ‘real’, but ‘...an illusion of life’. What is particularly fascinating, quite near the beginning of the piece, is when the puppeteers place the puppet down on the table, leaving it ‘lifeless’, yet they continue to move their hands around, up and down the table, and we watch their hands as if they were still holding and controlling the puppet. This points out that what the performers have created is not just a person, but a soul. When the physical body is not being used, we still watch the echoed presence in the form of the puppeteers’ hands. This suggests that they could pick up any inanimate object and place their devised soul into it. It is really quite clever, and almost bewildering for us to know that the life they have created before us does not need a physical medium, but is no less real.
The three men are very in tune with each other, improvising much of the piece. Their little man appears very natural, and wonderfully (but not clumsily) awkward. He talks, delightfully repetitively, about his table, and all the possibilities there are to it - "the imagination can be very dangerous." He also talks about the ‘underneath’ of the table, and how it does not seem like a good place for ‘dwelling’. We can all empathise with this analogy; the table is our world, and it’s true, it has limitless possibilities if we allow our minds to see and create them, and sometimes we do venture to the darker side of the world; we do dwell on the more solemn side of life, and it is a scary and unwelcome place for us to go.
Eventually we are introduced to Sarah Calver, who sits at the table, reading. The little man cannot seem to get her attention. He tries everything to get her to leave his table so that he can continue to entertain his audience, but it is as if she cannot hear him. They develop a silent and puzzling relationship. One could conceive that she is a writer, and he is her creation. Perhaps she has writer’s block, perhaps she is struggling with her own subject matter; whatever the actuality, their relationship is intriguing. Calver has a good focus and slightly intense energy, which helps create an appealing chemistry between her and the puppet.
The production can be extremely funny at times, with very warm responses from the audience, although I would say that the company do have a tendency to dwell on their own humour just a little too much, or prolong a joke just a fraction too long, making it slightly self-indulgent. Considering the fact that this piece has been devised and directed by the same people, perhaps a director with an outside eye would have been helpful in order to reign in these moments moderately.
There is a small epilogue to this production, which I do not want to describe too thoroughly and spoil -it is a story told completely by pieces of paper, taken from a brief case, accompanied to Elgar. It is brilliantly clever, and very neatly executed. If you are at all curious then you must go and see it.
This is a quirky, strange, thought-provoking piece of theatre that will entertain and captivate. Inspired by Beckett, the closest I can describe this is 'Waiting for Godot - with puppets'.