I’ll come right out and say it – I’m a puppetry virgin. Outside of the children’s shows I vaguely recall seeing when I was little, and Avenue Q, I have honestly never seen a puppet show. Cirqular, created by the Artichoke Heart Collective, and playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival, was my first foray into that world. The most accurate way to describe my experience was a combination of feeling confused and impressed.
Because the physicality and manipulation of the puppets was the show’s centrepiece, Cirqular was a play that took place entirely without the use of language. As someone who had yet to adapt to the “language” of puppetry, I spent a good while trying to get my narrative bearings. I felt a bit like a stereotypical confused movie-goer. (“Who’s she? Why’d that happen? What’s that supposed to mean?”). But eventually, if I was correct, I figured out that it was the story of an old woman who discovered the ability to turn back time, and prevent herself from aging further.
Once I got over my confusion about the plot, I was entirely engrossed in the different puppets and characters interacting in Cirqular. All of the characters were made up of repurposed objects – namely clocks – and I was consistently impressed by the performers’ ability to flesh out the individual personality of each puppet. The fact that I was able to witness a wordless exchange between two decorated clocks and understand the particulars of their identities and opinions was rather cool, and speaks to the mastery of the performers.
But the most impressive part of Cirqular, by far, was the way in which the performers gave life to a bird-like puppet, which went from hatching from an egg to learning to walk and fly, and a series of progressively complicated actions. The puppet would be controlled by one to all three of the performers at a time, and no matter how many were controlling it, it maintained its consistent, extremely believable physicality. The time and effort put into this character in particular by the folks at Artichoke Heart is evident.
The venue’s sightlines didn’t do Cirqular any favours. I had trouble seeing a lot of the action taking place on the floor, and judging from the amount of shuffling around that I saw and heard from my fellow audience members, I wasn’t the only one.
I’m interested to hear what other audience members with a little bit more of a puppetry background have to say about the show, but Cirqular was definitely like nothing I’d ever seen before, and I’d bet it’s like nothing many of my theatre friends have seen before, either.
Cirqular plays at the Tarragon Extraspace (30 Bridgman Avenue)
July 03 at 11:00 PM
July 05 at 05:15 PM
July 06 at 08:45 PM
July 08 at 01:15 PM
July 09 at 03:30 PM
July 10 at 09:15 PM
July 13 at 01:45 PM
LATECOMERS ARE NEVER ADMITTED TO FRINGE SHOWS. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.
Photo by David Chinchilla