Slapdash Galaxy [FringeTIX]
Bunk Puppets @ The Palace
8:30pm, Fri 17 Feb 2012
I missed Mr Bunk’s Swamp Juice last year, and it felt like ages since I saw Sticks, Stones, Broken Bones (in 2009) – so, in an effort to inject a little variety into the day’s events, I decided to wander into his latest creation.
I don’t know whether The Palace is a reconfigured version of the old Puppet Palace (whose name, at least, appears to have migrated over to Gluttony), but it’s a pretty nice space now: flat floor seating with a raised stage, and a raked set of bench seats at the back. With a small crowd of maybe twenty, I sat near the front with Beth; the stage is littered with junk – plastic bottles and foam objects and a projection screen and a large cardboard frame with a circle cut out of its centre.
Mr Bunk – Jeff Achtem – wanders in, eyes wide behind goggles, grunting like Yoda and chirping like a laryngitic bird. His language has a charm about it, despite only second word being intelligible; he attaches some small foam hands to his big toes, lays down on the stage, and begins the performance. With cardboard faces (that seem to be impossibly expressive) and the foam hands, he presents the story of two brothers seeking out the Pearl Galaxy in their space-ship, encountering a giant space-spider and other trials along the way.
Achtem’s shadow puppetry is, frankly, the product of sheer genius. Using all four limbs to create the illusion of two boys talking to each other (with expressive arm movements!) was impressive enough, but he doesn’t limit himself to the stage; he roams the aisle of The Palace with a small model space-ship and a torch, flying it into the audience’s heads and shadowing the action onto the sides of the venue (if you want to prevent excessive twisting to see what’s going on, it’s best to sit at the back). He projects constellations onto the roof. He creates spectacular smoke rings that give an incredible illusion of movement.
But, unfortunately, it doesn’t always go to plan.
This was, of course, his opening night, and it was pretty clear that he was not as organised as he’d have liked. The stage didn’t appear to be blocked out appropriately, and he spent a lot of time shuffling his objet d’art around. He was constantly prompting the tech for changes, and there were a few pacing problems. And when I had to control the space-spider, the pulley on the roof was too stiff for me to leverage the control that Bunk (and I) wanted.
Fair enough, I thought. Opening night, he’s still sorting stuff out. Locally-sourced junk probably has its own peccadillos. I can deal with that. But not everyone else in the audience managed that sense of understanding… especially the chap sitting a row behind me, beer in hand. Audience participation seemed to be the go, in his mind, as he openly mocked Bunk’s efforts to his friend.
As the show went on, the scoffing from the man just increased; “Entertainment?” he muttered. “Don’t go overboard.” He turned to his mate: “I wouldn’t mind being entertained soon.”
Eventually I snapped. Achtem was resetting his props for the next chapter of his story; I turned and suggested, “Hey mate – how about you shut up.”
He continued talking to his friend. “This is fucking…”
“You – shut up. Now.” I’d had enough.
He looked at me, startled. “Uh… why?” The question actually seemed genuine, like he didn’t know what he was doing.
“Because you’re ruining my enjoyment of the show,” I attempted to explain in a level voice. I turned back to the stage… and didn’t hear a peep out of him for the rest of the performance. But all the while I fumed about his lack of awareness – and at the fact that I just upped the likelihood of getting into a fight.
But that little altercation – besides providing evidence of people’s growing self-important sense of entitlement – didn’t really detract from the show itself; because when you outlay cash on a Bunk puppet show, you’re paying for Achtem’s imagination (in storyline and performance), and his ingenuity. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in the best position to convey those attributes (and his vision) this evening.
I’ll keep turning up to Bunk Puppet shows, because some of the ideas jammed in there are things you just won’t see anywhere else. Whilst the Pearl Galaxy (floating pearls made out of a mixture of smoke, helium, and soap bubbles) didn’t quite work out tonight, I can imagine how it will look later… and that is incredible. And that smoke-ring effect? Stunning.