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The Fantasist

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Puppets are very much en vogue right now thanks to smash hit War Horse - which is a mixed blessing for those who were already working with them.

For physical theatre companies Theatre Temoin and Compagnie Traversiere you have to hope it is a boon, with their latest show The Fantasist at the Blue Elephant showcasing inventive puppetry along the lines of Jim Henson in Labyrinth, if not on the same scale. The strange, devised story follows sleepless artist Louise (Julia Yevnine), who struggles with bi-polar (the disorder currently faced by CIA agent Carrie Mathison in hit US series Homeland).

When an unexpected visitor in a dashing blue velvet-trimmed coat comes to call - sensitive, menacing puppetry here from Julia Correa and Cat Gerrard - she thinks she's found new inspiration.

The surreal approach to storytelling thrives in a minimal black set populated with objects which could become anything when Louise hits the real highs. Who knew a reel of masking tape could be pulled out to make charming shapes, or a desk lamp be as cute as a shy rabbit?

Before long, sinister touches emerge, from the original music by French singer-songwriter Milkymee dotted with eery accordion and toy piano, to the slowly domineering influence of the Bluebeard-like figure who seems to simultaneously spur Louise on while sucking her dry of life.

It's not all so alarming - there's surprising comedy gold from two a capella swing-singing freakish puppet heads and a half-formed, childish figurine in the waste paper basket who just wants to play.

Haunting and enchanting in equal measure, The Fantasist would surely be a hit at the Edinburgh fringe but could be neglected in London. There's imagination by the paint-box load in a show which examines mental illness in a far from conventional way - and is all the better for it.

- Vicky Ellis


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