John Smythe - Theatreview.org.nz'This is a homage to a cult classic that made a big impression in their teens, while creating a seismic shift in Hollywood values, and judging by the packed Pit Bar (with many turned away), there are plenty of punters of their generation and others who share their nostalgic passion... 'open/close
"Don't expect to see a remake of Pulp Fiction," director Hannah K Clarke cautions in her programme note. "It's not plagurism [sic], it's homage!"
Wedged into a corner of Bats Theatre's tiny Pit Bar, bursting-with-punters, she operates the laptop that throws up titles, credits and location backdrops on the large flat screen that separates the puppeteers from the table top on which their string puppets perform.
Lovingly crafted by Jon Coddington, who is joined by James Nokise and Anya Tate-Manning, the superb puppets are instantly recognisable as Travolta, Jackson, et al. The tiny props are brilliant too.
When Tate-Manning's Honey Bunny delivers a prologue debating whether it's worth holding up (as in ribbing) this theatre bar with gags about Marty (Bats' programme manager) and Chris (Bats' business manager), I think for a moment we're in for a full-on Kiwi parody. But no, it quickly reverts to the stock schlock – and hey, it wouldn't be 'pulp' otherwise, would it?
At 6.45 on Thursday we get the first of 'The Bonnie Situation's 3 parts. [This week and next week, 3 stories play out in 3 parts on Wed ('The Gold Watch'), Thurs ('The Bonnie Situation'), Fri (Marcellus Wallis' Wife) and Sat is a mash up of highlights and requests.]
Coddington plays it relatively straight as Vincent while Nokise ad-libs so well as Jules (e.g. when a leg won't move, "I think I got a dead leg from the car ride"), that you want more things to go 'wrong'. Tate-Manning fills in all the other roles with alacrity.
Plush pink bench-seats set the diner, then, encased in a box, create the car, then furnish the apartment where Vincent and Jules may or may not be saved by a miracle.
Aficionados await the accidental shooting of Marvin in the car with high anticipation and are not disappointed. Somehow the awkwardness of some of the 'effects' just adds to the fun.
The tight team works hard beneath their relaxed exteriors. It's a big and arguably insane task they have taken on. But this is a homage to a cult classic that made a big impression in their teens, while creating a seismic shift in Hollywood values, and judging by the packed Pit Bar (with many turned away), there are plenty of punters of their generation and others who share their nostalgic passion.
Glory be, Fringe is yet again filling, with its special magic, the most unexpected Dunedin venues, from the sublime to the ridiculous: the Festival Gala launching impressively with Film Noir trappings in the huge Town Hall, while next night I find myself squeezed into intimate contact with lovely strangers in the unbelievably teeny but twinkly Inch Bar.
It is the perfect spot for this delicious cult show of a cult show: the tiny but perfectly formed puppets prance on a tiny stage with tiny props, and we are right there to help the brilliant human-sized operators when things fall apart. Sometimes literally. But even losing a foot simply provides James Nokise, as Vincent, with the opportunity for wickedly funny ad-libs, or at the least a “Thank you, Hand of God” as a prop is handed up by a grinning punter crouched beneath him.
And this is the chief delight of Puppet Fiction. It is a cute idea to have the violent cult classic enacted by puppets, but it is the verbal dexterity of the puppet masters that keeps us in a ripple of amusement, creating a hilarious party atmosphere. The odd slow patch is forgiven when the character is grumbling, “The trouble with this section is, I have no jokes... told you you should have hired De Niro!... We'll just stand here in awkward silence...”
The actor/operators are in impeccable, nonchalant control, and the audience adores them. Nokise is brilliant, but Anya Tate-Manning and Jon Coddington are also delightfully relaxed yet quick-thinking, and it is their handling of the fluffs that inspires the increasing hilarity of the crowded bar.
The puppets themselves, created by Coddington, are gorgeous: clever caricatures of faces with the best noses ever, and jointed arms with splayed fingers that are marvellously expressive. The set is a television screen, which means that when we move from the diner to a collapsible cardboard car (“We're really shit at building cars – this is why they don't let us do children's theatre. I'm steering with my dick!”) it is our own Dunedin we recognise rushing past the window.
The gruesome humour of the movie is recreated with relish, the audience is viciously threatened (“I'll execute every one of you mother-fuckers – this is not a drill!” snarls sweet Tate-Manning), but the black comedy of Pulp Fiction translates irresistibly to puppets. Well, they've been making us laugh at violence since Punch and Judy, after all.
On a nearby floor cushion I see a friend, a caring tender-hearted teacher of children with learning disabilities, who surprisingly turns out to be a rabid Pulp Fiction fan. She is loving this so much she is aggressively determined to stay for the following two performances, which complete the story: rapes, heroin overdoses and all.
I suggest you too menace your way up the queue outside the Inch Bar to see at least one show. You won't be disappointed. If you're lucky you'll catch gems like this: “I've screwed up the lines – still getting images of stewardesses from the riff we did earlier...” A knock-out.
Tom Scott, Professional Cartoonist'It is an utterly unique and singular theatrical experience so smartly and endearingly executed you wonder why no one had thought of it sooner. It succeeds brilliantly on a number of levels...'open/close
I cannot commend this puppet show too highly.
It is an utterly unique and singular theatrical experience so smartly and endearingly executed you wonder why no one had thought of it sooner. It succeeds brilliantly on a number of levels.
Very shrewdly it uses excerpts from the screenplay Pulp Fiction as its template. On the strength of superb out of character performances, unexpected plot twists, jumbled time lines and wildly funny dialogue a movie which pundits expected to be a relatively obscure cult movie at best became an international box office smash.
Like Dr Strangelove and The Big Lebowski it is one of those rare films that rewards repeated viewing. The only downside, and it is minor, is that fans assembled together invariably start quoting and enacting whole scenes verbatim before collapsing in laughter - which can be disconcerting to the uninitiated.
This helps Puppet Fiction enormously. You look forward to lines you remember fondly and delight in the lines you had forgotten.
The puppets themselves are superbly realized three-dimensional caricatures, ruthlessly exaggerated yet instantly recognizable like all good caricature should be. I draw cartoons for a living - there is a very keen eye and great skill at work here.
The voices and performances are pitch and pace perfect. The puppets work or don't work as intended. There is no fourth wall or ceiling so we see the puppet masters pulling the strings and pulling faces, which heightens the magic, lunacy and fun.
Go see it if you get the chance. Get a front row seat. This is an intimate show and being splashed with performers sweat is part of the charm.