This was a show billed for the younger audience, yet it was a complete enchantment for me, a fully-grown adult with no child in tow! From the very beginning, I was enraptured by puppeteer and shadowgrapher Drew Colby, both by his performance persona and by his mind-boggling ability to create extraordinarily animated hand-shadows. I had to keep referring back to see if this really wasn’t the true shadow of someone’s profile, or a bird, or a mischievous rabbit.
Inspired by the animal tales of Aesop and La Fontaine, involving live music (harmonica) and song – and just Colby’s fingers and thumbs – Small Fables is a one-man show of exceptional charm, humour and virtuosity. Spellbound, I found myself gasping in delight. We witness small yet bold encounters such as a rabbit innocently attempting to eat some grass, perpetually interrupted every time he tries to sing his song. Other fables feature encounters between an extraordinary number of different hand-shadow animals, including mice, hares, tortoises, foxes, crows, grasshoppers, frogs, lions and wolves.
A scene that had the sold-out audience squealing and screaming was his interpretation of the nursery rhyme/song There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly. It was just extraordinary. Drew Colby has such fantastic timing, and a brilliant deadpan dialogue with the audience. The images he creates are both humorous and intricate, often poetic, with an aesthetic that reminds me of Russian animator Yuri Norstein. Some fables have a pre-recorded soundscape, others are characterfully narrated live.
A fistful of finger-tastic fantasy, Drew Colby’s storytelling exists in a world created with absences of light and simple lightscapes, such as a torch illuminating the bottom of a jam jar, the near phantasmagorical result projected onto the full-moon shaped screen. He creates theatre out of thin air: the timing, blending and melding of one creature into another, the depth and lifelikeness he can create is mindblowing. At the end of this hugely transportative show, in wonderment I had to go request that he showed me his hands – just to check that he didn’t have extra fingers…