Prehistoric puppet show explores happiness at the Berkeley Street Theatre in Toronto
Walking out of Old Trout Puppetry Workshop‘s opening performance of Ignorance, I can say with perfect certainty that I was definitely pretty content with the hour and twenty minutes I’d spent in the Berkeley Street Theatre watching the show.
Ignorance is an exploration of how we came to understand happiness, how we seem to have lost it and how we might be able to find it again. It’s presented as a documentary, omniscient narrator included (and brought into being by the robust timbre of Judd Palmer, one of Old Trout’s co-founders). Through the deft skills of a trio of puppeteers, imaginative set design, and an enticingly clever script, the story of our prehistoric ancestors and their emotional evolution is easy to get immersed in.
I was struck most by the morbidly comedic angle of the show, and considering the amount of guffaws and giggles coming from the rest of the audience, I think the tone works. A look at humankind’s search for happiness can’t be complete without the acknowledgment of despair, and I think it’s a difficult task to maintain the balance that keeps it more humourous than uncomfortable. I think the puppets are a perfect method of delivery for that.
The performers are also impressive, blending together seamlessly with their puppet counter-parts. I’m always awed by shows that place the puppeteer on stage as opposed to behind a curtain or a piece of the set. Nick Di Gaetano, Viktor Lukawski and Trevor Leigh breathe so much life into their characters that I found no need to distinguish between puppet and person. And we’re not just talking about hand puppets here either. Some of the creatures require full body commitment, others (like the bewitching, though unsettling Yellow Balloon) require only deliberate flicks and twists of their wrists, and others still were propelled across the stage by way of roller stool.
A visually striking show, Ignorance makes use of one set, an intricate cave-structure that looks like it’s been built out of enormous bones or thick pieces of driftwood, tied together with twine fashioned from the sinews of some Paleolithic creature. It’s the cave of prehistoric Adam and Eve. A built-in screen provides a multimedia backdrop, where animations are projected and interacted with by the puppets. The puppets themselves range in size and are full of intricate details. My favourite is the wrinkled old man, made with no arms, but who uses the arms of whichever puppeteer is bringing him to life (spoiler alert: or death).
Ignorance is a fantastic exploration of something we think about all the time, something that’s been looked at in all artistic forms. The pursuit and existence of happiness and what it means for us is relatable and Old Trout Puppetry Workshop brings a fresh and entertaining voice to the conversation.
An extra tidbit for you: The show’s concept and script were a collaboration put together through a process the company calls Open Creation. The creators posted their ideas and progress online, inviting anyone to comment, question or pitch their own thoughts.