The Old Trout Puppet Workshop’s Famous Puppet Death Scenes does exactly what it says on the tin, pretty much. Imported from Calgary as part of Summerhall’s CanadaHub programme, it’s a vaudevillian sketch show of drownings, suicides and shootings jokingly lifted from the classical puppetry canon. An exhibition of expiration.
And it’s quite a lot of fun. Our host, the doddering puppetry professor Nathaniel Tweak, himself a puppet, presents puppets shot in hunting accidents, puppets gobbled up by monsters, puppets repeatedly getting mashed by a giant fist, interspersing scenes with flighty analysis about their meaning. You get the gist.
The most enjoyable deaths are the most unexpected, the most ingenious: a butterfly getting burned by a magnifying glass, a giant whale’s eye closing for the last time, and, brilliantly, a young girl’s family of dolls getting destroyed by two demonically possessed younger siblings. Oh, there’s a great, gory one about a Dickensian child-snatcher, too.
But, although there’s certainly a curious joy in watching The Old Trouts work their analogue intricacy (popping up behind windows, wheeling trolleys through creaking doors, etc.), Famous Puppet Death Scenes starts to wear after a while.
It’s because there’s only one joke on offer – puppets dying in stupid ways. And after the fourteenth or fifteenth puppet death, you start to wish for the show to go somewhere else, somewhere a bit deeper. It tries to, with a meta-theatrical ending for our puppet host himself, but fails. Plenty of Punch, not much Judy.