#3 Waltz of the Hommelettes

Theatre ( Puppetry, Masked, Fairy Tale ) The Pit, Barbican

A wonderfully strange take on Grimm's fairy tales and German folklore. Live action, masked theatre, great puppetry, and one imposing, oversized Black Forest cuckoo clock full of secret drawers.

Company Les Antliaclastes, steered by AD Patrick Sims, have put on quite the show. On a commission, starting from Germanic elven stories and mixing in neighbouring lore, Waltz is a bricolage of fairy tale fragments, all mashed together in one happy mess.

Visually striking, the grand cuckoo clock set provides a seemingly never-ending stream of curious things to admire and discover. The action takes place in- or beside it. The Waltz is a dark one, both in atmosphere and humour, but tastefully built. Not unlike a strongly flavoured forest berry cake. Some Lynchian vibes.

The elves are slithy and bony little skeletons, the gnomes dirty and worn, and the humans (and humanoids) driven by a wicked spirit. Some of the creatures are downright nasty. Costuming is winning, and the masks are inspired. Both the puppets and their puppeteering are outstanding — the elves in particular feel alive. There is some depth and juicy ambiguity to their character and behaviour.

The masked play leans on universal gesturing, with some unsettling twists towards anthropomorphising and vice versa. The live action around the set works OK, but is a little slow and doesn't really surprise or delight. There's the surreal logic of children's stories, with the Waltz relishing the old dark style, but not much going on besides the resolution of the story.

I'm reminded of the collage form of Famous Puppet Death Scenes, though that one held the audience better in hand and carried the show forward with a pace. This Waltz feels generously slow. At times the action literally stops, as the acting trio changes gear.

The cast appeared mightily introverted (or simply tired) in the Q&A, but they politely explained the background of the show. Mr Sims laid it all out even generously, but managed to do so in a way that effectively killed any follow-up. True carnies, not too comfortable without their craft. Good to hear about the process, though.

With a stronger narrative and some pace, Waltz could be amazing. What's missing is perhaps Gaiman's "And then what happened?" The fairy tales tie themselves up too nicely. And yet things don't quite fit together. There's a richness, but the cake's ingredients are not quite in balance.

However, it is still well worth your time to sit down by the cuckoo clock, and wonder at these dark fairy tales and their twisted telling.