“Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite the claws that catch”.
What did I think of the Old Trout Puppet workshop’s production – “Jabberwocky”? Well, I don’t think I could put it better than Alice herself:
“It seems very pretty…but it’s rather hard to understand!…..somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas – only I don’t exactly know what they are”
– Alice on first reading the befuddling poem “ Jabberwocky” in Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass
And that’s precisely it. The show did fill my head with strange and wonderful imagery. It was wickedly creative with beautiful characterisation, but the overall meaning was elusive and intangible.
In essence, this is a coming of age story of a little boy hare, with his little hare family and his little hare girlfriend, in his little hare house. All should be well, but lurking in the shadows is a MONSTER, an ever-present malaise. But what is this monster?…….
Stylistically the show is a marvel. Illustrated in a truly enchanting, consciously naive style. With deftly skill, the production team have weaved together, live (masked) performance, Bunraku-style puppetry (which I now know is puppets operated with the puppeteer in full view of the audience), flat and relief puppets operated with a system of pins, pivots and dowels and all framed by a rolling backdrop, on a bespoke contraption that looks a cross between antiquarian artefact and torture device. Judging by the looks on the operator’s faces, it was closer to a torture device. The show called forth to my mind, a rabble of eclectic references including; Monty Python, Terry Gilliam, Brazil (Gilliam’s 1985 Dystopian film), children’s picture books from bygone ages, legends of knights, fair maidens and dragon slayers, and a merry band of Shakespearean buffoons.
…….But now we’ve ignored that menacing presence for too long, we mustn’t turn our backs on this monster of ours. We must try to figure out what or who this monster is. Is it the glutton of capitalism, the corporate machine? Or perhaps it’s something more insular, insidious; macho pride, avarice, lust…but why so much anger and frustration little hare? There’s no need to struggle and fight for what you think you need to be, when what you need was right there beside you all along. Swords and knives can’t vanquish those demons, only love and empathy.
In truth, the meaning of our looming monster could be anything and nothing. Just like Carroll’s poem, the truth is all in projection. The words are gobbledygook, mumbo-jumbo, balderdash, twaddle, nonsense. It only has meaning because we extrapolate one from fragments of thoughts, flickers of past stories, historical constructs and agreed conventions. The meaning only exists in our heads. That’s what I liked about the Old Trout performance. Just like Carroll’s poem, it uses shadows of preconceived notions to have you fretfully searching for the monster, but maybe there is no monster. Maybe it’s all nonsense, maybe the monster wasn’t outside at all, maybe it’s all just in our heads.
“Jabberwocky” is a show with two faces- one is bright and whimsical, a delightful romp, the other darkly provocative and beguiling. I thoroughly enjoyed it. T’was truly “brillig”.
Get your tickets here!