Review: Henry by Blind Summit

A manifesto of sorts for the power of puppetry

★★★
theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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Henry
Published 14 Aug 2018

Puppetry experts Blind Summit's new show at the Fringe is based on director Luke Alexander's attempts to connect with his dead father through his old belongings. With two students, he re-enacts a "masterclass" helping them to animate objects through improvisation, to make "objects in space tell stories".

The thing is, director Luke Alexander is a fiction. So are his students, and so is the masterclass. Again and again the three-strong cast (Fiona Clift and Tom Espiner, led by Blind Summit AD Mark Down) puncture this egotistical setup. Through humour, bathos and clichéd use of Philip Glass music, the central emotional dynamic of a son grappling with the death of an absent father is reduced to "the full Edinburgh ego trip". The puppet is made of bin bags, for Christ's sake. It's a wonderful idea, taking the piss out of your own art form, and Blind Summit do this with vigour. It's really funny, and, despite a lot of (deliberately) hammy moments of things floating about, very engaging.

What the success of this rests on, though, is whether or not the production can still pack an emotional punch. In spite of everything, in spite of stripping away any sense of decorum from the noble form of puppetry, of exposing all the mechanics, can it still make us weep? On balance, the answer is 'no'. The final reveal, a wall of puppet and binbag, just isn't enough of a 'wow' moment to turn the dead objects on stage into trancendent ones. They remain metatheatrical metaphors – interesting but persistently inanimate. Still, there's a lot of fun to be had in the self-sabotaging attempt to animate them.