As we take our seats at Tobacco Factory Theatre, a series of signs are held up by two actors dressed in black, surrounded by an entirely black set: no mobile phones, no cameras, no video cameras, no irons.
Gérard Schiphorst introduces the show in hushed voice and informs us that as he and fellow puppeteer, Marije van der Sande, will not use speech during this 60 minute performance, then neither should we.
Oh Gawd, it all sounds very restricting, regulated, stiff, doesn’t it? Fear not, Smart as a Donkey is anything but and this travelling Dutch company will have you laughing at the story, yes, but mostly you’ll marvel at the sheer imaginativeness of TAMTAM objektentheater’s puppets. You see, this is object theatre, where all is made from everyday household items.
So, come, travel with Donkey as he leaves his hell-hole of an orphanage with its foul food and hard labour, where he has been overseen by an upside down watering can of a warden, a vile and utterly believable character, complete with his glasses and whistle.
Fly with Donkey, watch him straddle a saw and broom handle bird. Stay with him as he constantly tries to escape Axe and Chop, a pair of ne’er-do-gooders, who are out to torment him and make his life a misery.
Watch as Donkey is saved by a tape measure snail and a chair-o-plane. Climb atop the wooden chair and baseball bat observatory to get closer to the stars and gasp when the seemingly threatening briefcase and garden fork man towers over him.
Follow him to the raucous circus, where he is taken by a money-grabbing, uncaring kettle wearing a bowler hat. Wince as our hero is stuffed into a canon and then chopped in half. Will he ever get out alive?
TAMTAM have created a wholly original piece of puppet theatre, a family show (age 5+) that includes a varied and upbeat musical score throughout, a smattering of film and lots and lots of found objects. It’s the sort of performance that is sure to unleash all sorts of imaginative play in every child.
Bristol Festival of Puppetry shows at various venues around the city until Sept 6th