#5 Anywhere

Theatre ( Puppetry ) Pit Theatre, Barbican

Curious, unique puppetry in a cold and dark, hard landscape. Anywhere is a high stylised free retelling of Henry Bachau's Oedipus on the Road. Haute puppetry from Élise Vigneron's company Théâtre de l’Entrouvert, with Hélène Barreau.

Anywhere is fairly abstract in its telling. A rare dark and quiet start sets up a wonderful tension, sadly soon discarded in a poetic if slightly flat exposition opening. With ice and fire, black and white, we are informed that Oedipus is out and about, with his daughter for company. The former is a diminutive puppet the size of a two-year-old controlled by Barreau by way of an elaborate pulley scheme fixed to the ceiling, with Vigneron portraying Antigone in the flesh.

The show is built around the technical challenges that this particular puppet imposes, with the story teetered on top. The pained pair travel harsh terrain, a circle of stones on stage, looking for some ephemeral truth or enlightenment. They walk and dance and float and swoop as they push through their mysterious elemental planes of ice and water and steam. From a certain generous vantage point, Anywhere is a layered metaphor for transformation.

Barreau skillfully animates the challenging puppet, momentarily passing into masterful territory, but the limitations on the puppet's mobility and liveliness are quite apparent. Vigneron similarly gives a steadfast performance with her tricky stage partner, but the drama is too thin to carry the story. Very little happens, and there's not enough intrigue to project deeper meaning onto the performance. 50 minutes feels long even with the sudden stop of an ending.

The Q&A reveals that indeed practical matters have defined much of the stagecraft. The puppeteering, the puppet manufacturing, staging — all of it is fine work, but lost in a show that is almost too hard to digest. Some fascinating insights into the art of problem solving in puppetry: heavy weight of the cast puppet led to the pulley setup, which then led to a handling mechanisms based not on pulling, as is commonly done, but on pushing down against gravity. And so the puppet floats. And so there's an aerial element. And then with ice and air there's an elemental story.

See Anywhere for the technical marvel that this singular puppet brings to the stage. There is little else to be found following Oedipus' frozen trail through this mystery fog.