What happens when you invite Edvard Munch and Vincent Van Gogh onto a popular television chat show? This is the premise for the new co-production between Ulrike Quade Company and Jo Stromgren Kompani as part of the Bristol Festival of Puppetry 2013.
Their previous collaboration, also seen in Bristol, was 2011's The Writer which was a beautifully lyrical tale based on author Knut Hamsun. This was both a triumph of storytelling and puppetry. With Munch and Van Gogh - the Scream of the Sunflower, they have created an altogether different beast stylistically. The premise of bringing two known figures together is not uncommon. Terry Johnson brought together Freud and Dali in Hysteria and Einstein and Monroe in Insignificance. Here, both Munch and Van Gogh explore their passions, their dreams and their desires using flashbacks, stand up arguments and a little bit of history via Multi-Media, the character in the screen.
Created to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Munch's birth, it makes sense that Munch is the more rounded of the two characters. We see him at various different stages of his life and seeing the passionate young man alongside the elderly, tired frame was one of the evenings most poignant of moments.
Choosing to go down the absurdist route gave the company room to move in the way they framed their ideas. This is essentially a show that argues both for and against the value and purpose of art. From personal passions that lead you to creating it through to monetary value and the Capitalist manifesto. Each section of society is represented here from the redundant host through to the art dealer who manipulates his ideal ending in true Jacobean style.
In choosing such broad issues, it does feel at times like they have given themselves too much to deal with without giving the piece an opportunity to breath.
The characters are all clearly defined and one of the evening's greatest triumphs is the relationship created between character and puppeteer. The integration of fact through the character of Multi-Media, the man in the screen is also one of the shows strengths.
Whilst sometimes the chaos of the show within the show runs away with itself, this is another accomplished piece of storytelling from a company of artists who share the passion and have the skill of the people they portray.