Predominantly at home in televisual media, Henson’s Company have worked to keep pace with CGI by using animatronic puppeteering, seen in series such as Dinatopia and Farscape. Refreshingly, ‘Puppet Up! Uncensored’ takes live improvisation as their frame for performance, drawing on the rawness, immediacy and potential disaster that theatre celebrates. Improvisation in the form of short scenes was headed by Keith Johnstone’s Theatre Sports in the seventies; the Henson Company adds a dimension by putting all manner of spongy beasts and muppety-folks at the centre of the action. The quick wit of the puppeteers were very impressive, particularly the work from Julianne Buescher.
Puppet Up! Uncensored was born out of improvisation classes led by the show’s host, Patrick Bistrow. Bistrow was enigmatic, personable, and proved to know when to call a swift end and move on to the next game. In each sketch after an almighty cry of ‘Puppet Up!’ the audience is asked for suggestions to build the action. The resulting scenes vary, as with all improvisation – sometimes they are remarkably comic; sometimes they don’t quite get off the ground. Either way it’s exciting, interesting, and more often than not rib-tickling fun.
As if an on-stage audience, 75 puppets sit on a bandstand waiting to be plucked up by any one of the 9 puppeteers, including Jim Henson’s son, Brian. Included are a variety of aliens, a pokey puppy, an ape with glasses, a red koala and a dozen or so hot dogs. The program tells us they are not Muppets – that name now belongs to the Disney Corporation – but for those who grew up with Jim Henson’s antics, these wide mouthed puppets, with their floppy little limbs and bulging eyes, have an indisputable Muppet quality.
The audio-visual presentation is enticing, allowing an audience to view the action on different media levels.
Monitors in the auditorium provide an on-screen presentation that frame the puppet players, with the occasional accidental cameo of a human arm or mop of hair. The puppeteers can also be watched on the stage, bunched together around a small on-stage monitor in which to reference their puppets’ engagement with both camera and fellow puppets.
The uncensored element allows for large slews of puppety potty-mouth, and perchance for both death and copulation (though on this particular night we weren’t so graced).
Puppet Up! Uncensored is excellent. Each puppet has its own wonderful and endearing quality, animated by a puppeteer troupe with unmatched mastery of the medium. It will appeal to a cross-generational audience who fell in love with Henson’s magic. To the few out there who were raised under a rock and missed that important part of television history, just go for the laughs, because it’s bloody hilarious.
The Jim Henson Company’s Puppet Up!-Uncensored
Venue: Riverside Theatre
Dates/Times: Wednesday March 21 and 22 @ 8.00pm
Tickets: From $69.90 ADULT, $65.90 CONCESSIONS
Bookings: (02) 8839 3399 or www.biglaughcomedyfestival.com.au
Big Laugh Comedy Festival Dates for Sydney
March 22, 2007 Riverside Theatres Parramatta
March 23-31, 2007 State Theatre
Book now at Ticketmaster
Melbourne International Comedy Festival dates for Melbourne
April 4-15, 2007 Princess Theatre
Book now at Ticketek