"Narrative poem in magical miniature"
by Rachel Knightley for remotegoat on 13/11/16

Exquisite characterisation through tiny, well-observed detail is the magic you’re assured of in any production on the Puppet Theatre Barge – not only of humans but of place, setting and the animal kingdom. This winter, they are moored at Little Venice with an adaptation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s narrative poem The Ancient Mariner. This cold world of sailors and sea monsters is well-established by a musical score, lighting and set designs that excel in the communication of mood and the passing of time. Set images are beautiful and articulate, conveying the cursed mariner’s isolation from his fellow-sailors. The phosphorescent water-snakes and shining death-fires are particularly treats.

There is a tendency for scenes to continue longer than needed once they have established their key image or narrative point. Such sloth in the scenes of less mature – or scary – stories can be more easily borne but this is not such a story. Tonight, children struggled with long scenes in which not enough was happening to sustain interest and pace; the atmosphere was not quite strong enough for adults to avoid feeling the same. Possibly due to first-night fine-tuning, Kenneth Griffith’s evocative if under-directed voiceover was repeatedly cut off a fraction too soon, making the audience frustratingly aware of its unreality. The narration is accompanied by a projection of the poem’s text and, where relevant, summaries of the musical mood. This caused some unintentional comedy for the audience when such labels as [Eerie sea sounds] appeared exactly in the position on the screen that the poetry had taken.

If, like me, you’re already a fan of the poem and/or the Puppet Theatre Barge, then I defy you not to have a wonderful time. However, don’t be too sure that it will be the right puppet show to convince a child – or adult – of the full potential of the marionettes.

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