#4 Cold Blood

Puppetry Barbican Theatre


A brilliant, unique show of miniature live action cinema from the quality production house Kiss & Cry. A celebration of practical special effects in a pseudo-"one take" form where a meticulously rehearsed crew of a dozen or so stage a stream of elaborate stage effects for a roving camera, presented to the audience on an overhead silver screen.

This time around, unlike with the story of love and loss from a few years ago, Charleroi Danses, we have a sequence of violent deaths very much in the spirit of Famous Puppet Death Scenes. Vignettes, scenes, short films with a comic storyline and always a gruesome death. An evening of clever, understated dark humour.

The short stories each still feature hands, primarily, but the range of expression has expanded to make room for complete human forms as well. We get sensual close ups of hands on skin, and silhouettes in the forest and on the road, and in inner and outer space. The body beautiful as instrument, complementing the dance of expressive hands.

Cold Blood is more visual, less cohesive in narrative terms. The show is driven by ideas for special effects, with the story almost an afterthought. This somewhat shows, unfortunately, though the high production values in every story do make up for it.

A narrator, unreliable in his calmness, a faceless poker voice, leads us through the experience. We witness dream sequences of all kinds, seven understated deaths, all of them rather surprising and indirectly set up. From the car wash and drive-in cinema to the red lanterns district and apartment blocks that hide terrible secrets. Snow storms and other weather effects masterfully recreated in a jar on a desk. A live show of death for a live audience.

Motifs are darker, the jokes macabre: all of this feeds into the visual fireworks. But there's also wonderful fan service for the culturally aligned. Synchronised swimming. An astonishing scene with a kaleidoscope serves as the climax. Constant nods to cinema, all backed up by matching popular music. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Bowie.

Graceful choreography, a veritable dance of precision in the execution of practical effects all around the film camera. Theatre smoke and some cinematic filters is all it seems to take to create these immersive worlds, to bring lifeless sets alive for death.

For all the stunning visuals, the stories still feel stretched. The pacing is off. Some prep subterfuge is forgivable, but this felt intentional and purposefully elongated, many of the scenes dragged on. The simultaneously gruesome and highly aesthetic deaths have little heart behind them. Some connection is missing.

A great show, a visual treat, a solid sequel — but not quite a strong as the original from KISS & CRY.