The Adventures of Curious Ganz is a puppet performance ‘based on the impossibly fascinating life of a fictitious scientist of the first Elizabethan era, Joachim Ganz, and featuring the enquiring mind of the monarch herself!’
We enter the theatre to take our seats. The stage is strewn with small tables, circular frames of various sizes, and a lot of small objects lying here and there.
The house lights go down and the stage lights focus on the big circular frame in the centre of the stage. The lighting is such that we can’t see what’s at the back of the set. Curly copper wire shapes emerge out of the gloom, joined by small carved shapes. All of which suggest we are looking through a microscope at the beginnings of life.
This scientific presentation is slightly undermined when a small skeleton of a pterodactyl flies in and deposits a bundle. The hero of the story, Ganz, climbs out of the bundle and the story can begin. The imaginative intermingling of fact and fiction is a crucial element of the story. Ganz is represented by three carved puppets of various sizes, and he’s rarely seen without a magnifying glass in his hands.
His curiosity about what life entails is a threat to the prime minister who aims to keep the queen in check by restricting what she knows. The queen puppet is dressed in a sculptural and restricting skirt, very much a prisoner of How Things Are Meant To Be.
What follows involves the machinations of court; two comic retainers; imprisonment because of perceived heresy; a daring escape; a voyage to the New World; the discovery of tobacco, potatoes, a guinea pig and electricity; and the liberation of the queen through what these discoveries teach her.
It’s a splendidly picaresque tale performed by three experienced puppeteers who are always in the right spot at the right time and who can swap puppets over with each other without missing a beat.
If I’ve made it sound like an adult show don’t be fooled. Behind me, a 6-year-old boy was speechless with laughter at the antics of the retainers and the escape scene which broke the format of the show in a dramatic manner.
The show is presented by Little Angel Theatre and Silent Tide, the latter a puppet company set up by Sarah Wright whose parents (John and Lyndie Wright) founded Little Angel Theatre. Her impressive CV includes work for Kneehigh, Phelim McDermott/Improbable, and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Here, her role is as both director and puppeteer. One of the other puppeteers is Liz Walker of Invisible Thread. (The two have worked together previously on many occasions.) The way the show is staged – no attempt to be realistic, and combining small scenes on different levels to create a bigger stage picture – is reminiscent of Liz’s work with both Faulty Optic, her previous company, and the current company, Invisible Thread. The third puppeteer is Nix Wood. Puppets and set are by Sarah Wright, Lyndie Wright, and Alice King. Associate director/movement director is Avye Leventis, and the composer of the highly appropriate music is Adam Pleeth.
It was a really good night out!
Featured image (top): The Adventures of Curious Ganz. Photo by Steve Tanner