I like the Etcetra Theatre. Above a pub on Camden’s ever bustling High Street, it seems to pride itself on being a bit of a pioneer for new, experimental, sketch comedy.
A close friend of mine has been lucky enough to perform there with his pretty controversial but entertaining comedy group and I feel quite connected to it in some stange, sentimental way. So, I was quite looking forward to last night’s performance of “It’s a Puppet’s Life” (I’m rather fanatical about puppets, too) and, to be honest, as I watched it, with the air-con in the theatre unfortunately deciding it wouldn’t like to work in any capacity on a humid, stuffy August night, I was quite looking forward to the end.
Stickyback Theatre company are one I’d not heard of before – 3 guys, a girl and a mountain of puppets seemingly designed and made by children – and, as an up and coming Fringe company, doing something quite brave and niche (for which they should be commended) I wasn’t that excited by them. Comedy sketch theatre, with puppets definitely sounded like something I could get on board with. But the overall feeling the hour long show left me with was disappointment.
Of 3 young blokes and a young girl working together in any way, the girl’s always going to get pushed to the side-lines in any decision making activity. It’s inevitable and no-one’s real fault. Testosterone just gets in the way (!), something you could tell, unmistakenly, in this performance. The comedy was immature and wreaked of ”teenage-boy” – full of unnecessary references to sex, gay sex, sex with prostitutes, fart jokes, jokes boarding on racial slurs… The list is long and tiresome. Not offensive just unsophisticated. Great if you are a teenage boy, of course! Not so much if you’re… anyone else.
Saying that, the actors were incredibly charming and seemed at ease on the stage, like they belonged there. A few, minor instances of false-starts to sketches and things going ever so slightly wrong told me this in how they handled these potential disasters and turned them around into entertaining little quirks of the show.
I wanted to see more of their personalities coming out, rather than the awkward, one dimensional characters they’d invented for their sketches, because I get the feeling they’re all really fun, easy going guys. I guess I wanted more of a Sesame Street feel – real people, reacting genuinely, whilst the puppets themselves are the only ’characters’ to behold.
When I let my mind drift, however momentarily, back to the performance I don’t tend to consider the effect the puppetry had. Strange, considering it was a puppet show. I think this is because, even though the puppetry was integrated into the sketches with the actors (well, some of them), it did a lot of the time feel as though the two could quite happily exist independently of one another. Probably 20% of the sketches used both actors and puppets symaltaneously, the rest was either actors or puppets. This felt like a waste of resources. Guys, you’re both comedy actors and puppeteers – both incredibly useful and interesting skills – use them MORE!
I think the fact I’ve studied theatre and playwrighting for such a large proportion of my life ruined the experience for me. I couldn’t bring myself to take the performance on face value like so many others in the audience – who seemed to be lightly entertained by it, I must say – but I also don’t really think that’s all my fault.
Particularly in terms of comedy, a show should cater for all senses of humour and different parts should appeal to different audience types. Each member of the audience should be able to come away with at least one specific joke they enjoyed. But with “It’s a Puppet’s Life” the jokes were all so similar, if you don’t enjoy one, you don’t enjoy at least another 99%.
Overall, “It’s a Puppet’s Life” is incredibly entertaining if you’re a bloke. The actors were easy going, easy to watch and did a brilliant job of holding themselves together under the immense heat of the stage lights and broken air-con. But it’s not so great if you’re not 15, not a bloke or would prefer not to think of Batman ”teabagging” (yes!) criminals in Gotham.