Any mention of puppet shows usually conjures up images of the centuries old seaside Punch and Judy show or latterly The Muppets on telly - but move over Mr Punch, Judy, Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy et al – there’s a new kid in town.
Vox Motus is Jamie Harrison and Candice Edmunds, aided by a host of talented theatre technicians and actors. Together James and Candice write, direct and design all their shows and have done since 2003. In that time they’ve taken the idea of the puppet show by the scruff of the neck, shaken it around a bit and given it a make-over. No, make that a total transformation - and unleashed it on audiences all over the country. According to their website they are “a theatre of story-telling visuals, transformational design, magic, comedy, music, physical performance, puppetry, multi-media and most importantly thrills.” And they’re not wrong. Shows such as The Not-So-Fatal Death of Granpa Fredo, Bright Black and The Infamous Brothers Davenport all testify to this. Joining them is the recent incarnation of Slick. First performed in 2008 it’s back to thrill audiences all over again.
Slick feels like a modern day fairy tale giving a nod to Cinderella, Babes in the wood and Jack and the Beanstalk and a quick wave to The Beverly Hillbillies – the oil discovering Clampetts in the 1960s American sitcom. It tells the story of little Malcolm Biggar, a boy who only wants to be good at skateboarding and to be the apple of his parent’s eyes. Unfortunately, his parents are more like the 2013 version of Wayne and Waynetta Slob – only much baser and crueller – if that’s possible. They are a couple who have fallen on hard times and whose evil landlord and local sex pest Jerko Driech, is demanding rent money which they don’t have. Having lost their business they are both unemployed and totally skint – until Malcolm discovers oil, that is, in the most unlikeliest of places – coming up through the toilet pan. They are now rich beyond their wildest dreams. Well, they will be when they’ve found a way of harvesting and selling the black gold.
This job is given to Malcolm and it takes him on a journey of discovery. On this journey he is mistreated and manipulated by every adult he comes in contact with, manages to build an oil well in the toilet, sells it to an oil company, sorts the landlord’s mother’s prolapsed rectum and vaginal infection, takes drugs, and dabbles with an AK47. All this is amazing considering he’s only nine years old.
But in Slick the impossible becomes possible - all thanks to a brilliantly agile company of actors, an ingenious and inventive set and a collection of extremely tightly choreographed moves and animated facial expressions which see the actors becoming both puppets and puppet masters.
When James Young, Steven Rae, Angela Darcy, Harry Ward and Jo Freer aren’t providing the faces for Malcolm, Mr Biggar, Mrs Biggar, Jerko Dreich and Mrs Dreich respectively they all take turns in providing arms and animating other characters. I know it’s complicated but working in perfect unison the actors manage, with the help of cleverly crafted costumes, to convince the audience that all the characters are three foot high people who exist in a variety of locations, can scale tall buildings, get hit by trees and car doors and stage shoot outs on the top of high buildings. Physically it’s very demanding but they each play their part to perfection. The compact set almost becomes a character in itself and works beautifully to provide everything the action needs to move along to a satisfying conclusion.
This production is Slick by name and slick by nature. The plot, although similar to the traditional Punch and Judy show in that it deals with big issues such as greed, violence and a rejection of authority also deals with child neglect, gun running and paedophilia. In Slick, Vox Motus are not afraid to go to dark places. They have created a funny, visually mesmerising and morally challenging piece of theatre. The dilemma? Should adults be entertained at such cruelty towards a child? Should they be laughing at the misfortunes of a nine-year old boy whose only ambition in life is to live a normal life? Listening to the loud, sporadic belly laughs of the audience I wouldn’t like to be the one to tell them they shouldn’t.
Slick runs at the Tron Theatre as part of the Glasgow International Comedy Festival until Saturday 30th March.