Mon. Apr 22nd, 2024

Summerhall – Old Lab


Summerhall – Old Lab The Way Back is a puppetry show for children age 5+, part of the Taiwanese Season at the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s a rather abstract, bizarre piece of work that draws on the horrors of war as a background for a peculiar story. The show begins in a sugary-sweet childlike manner, with an exploration of some toys, accompanied by tinkly, nursery-style music and a mellifluous American voiceover. However, it quickly takes a turn into rather dark – and somewhat bewildering – dreamlike areas. A soldier is tasked with collecting together body parts that have been blown apart…

Rating



Good

A rather bizarre puppetry show for children using body parts blown off in a wartime explosion.

The Way Back is a puppetry show for children age 5+, part of the Taiwanese Season at the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s a rather abstract, bizarre piece of work that draws on the horrors of war as a background for a peculiar story.

The show begins in a sugary-sweet childlike manner, with an exploration of some toys, accompanied by tinkly, nursery-style music and a mellifluous American voiceover. However, it quickly takes a turn into rather dark – and somewhat bewildering – dreamlike areas. A soldier is tasked with collecting together body parts that have been blown apart in a detonation. The show follows the arms, legs and torso as they find their way back together, with the help of the rather traumatised soldier.

There are some lovely visual parts to the production early on, particularly the use of streamer paper to represent explosions, and there is clever use of shadow projection. The lighting is nicely considered and is used effectively to shift between scenes and atmospheres.

However, other parts of the show are a little problematic. The setting of a war zone is clear and visceral, with explosions happening multiple times. They are loud and realistic, rather than suggestive (I jumped a mile at the first one!), which undercuts the idea that this is a dream. The spoken language also references people running for their lives under fire, which feels a bit full on for the age range. Juxtaposed with the surreal dancing body parts and abstract voiceover, there’s a conflict of style and content.

The main puppets are, as mentioned, disconnected limbs and a torso, which are quite poorly made and give an air of amateurism that belies the actual talent of the puppeteers. One arm is bandaged and a little gruesome. The hand pieces in particular don’t cover the performers’ arms adequately, such that the characters aren’t sufficiently separated from them for the illusion of self-animation to work well.

I found the American voiceover rather sickly sweet, but it’s not so sweet that it’s clearly a deliberately chosen contrast to the horrors of war. After a while its smoothness becomes rather soporific. The music nearly falls foul of the same criticism of being overly saccharine, but some of it is absolutely excellent, particularly the upbeat comic sections, which lift the performance in an instant.

The characters quite clearly deliver a message that behind acts of war are vulnerable, emotional human beings, with civilian as well as military victims. In reconstructing the body there’s a performance of possibility; of stopping the act of war itself in the future, and all that is to be commended.

It’s certainly a neatly delivered piece of work, with talented performers and some well thought through tech, but for me the balance is a little off: I can’t quite reconcile the juxtaposition of the brutal realism of war in sound and description, with the cartoon, abstract playful puppetry.


Produced by The Double Theatre
Directed by: Cheng-Chun Lee

The Way Back plays at Summerhall for EdFringe 2023 until 27 August. Further information and bookings can be found here.


By Sandra Winters

Writer | Author | Wordsmith Passionate about crafting stories that captivate and inspire. Published author of [Book Title]. Dedicated to exploring the depths of human emotions and experiences through the power of words. Join me on this literary journey as we delve into the realms of imagination and uncover the beauty of storytelling.