Blind Summit are a long-established and much respected puppet company, and have introduced many Edinburgh audiences to the boundless possibilities of manipulated objects within theatre. Most recently, their show Citizen Puppet stunned audiences and they also contributed to the production of Meet Fred at last year’s Fringe.
Blind Summit is therefore high on the list for anyone who enjoys adult puppet theatre, and Henry certainly sounded intriguing. The company puts much emphasis on innovation, and this has its place on their vision statement alongside some other key principles. They always aim to challenge audience expectations of puppetry, as well as those of their collaborators and peers. This they certainly do in Henry, which clearly met with a range of responses from the audience, from perplexity though mild annoyance to growing understanding from some.
For many years there has been debate around the merging of puppet and object theatre, and whether they are in fact two different things. This show grapples with that issue, and is likely to prove fascinating to practitioners who are aware of the debate, but may prove disappointing to those for whom a shopping trolley moved through the air does not seem like puppetry.
Part of the problem, of course, is marketing. The show is very much sold as puppetry whereas it is much more about how we can use objects to tell stories, and for many audience members there was almost no puppetry in the show at all. Drama or puppetry students, on the other hand, should find it fascinating, and if you can’t experiment with the form at Edinburgh, then where can you do so?
Blind Summit Artistic Director Mark Down plays the central role of the fictional director as well as directing Henry, and the other performers are Fiona Clift and Tom Espiner. For much of the time this is a story narrated by Down, but the occasional contributions from the other two cast members are effective and show considerable movement skills.
Fascinating for the performers and some audience members, less so for those whose preconceptions are more rigid, this is a show that is likely to divide audiences. However, as is often the case with Blind Summit, it is also likely to evolve over time, perhaps becoming accessible to a wider range of audiences as it does so.