Australian Michael Leunig's cartoons are at once funny and melancholic; his view is that you have to chuckle through the slough, or it would all be insupportable. Premier mask-theatre company Trestle have translated this perspective to the stage to heartbreaking effect. Not only have they fashioned Leunig-like big-nosed masks (the prototypes of which resembled "despondent camels") with in some cases a teapot, an aircraft carrier or the Canary Wharf tower perched atop them, but for the first time they deploy puppetry techniques as characters fly off the stage then return as smaller, "further-off" effigies.
A nameless dungaree'd protagonist, horrified at the senseless harshness of life in the city (where a park-keeper with a megaphone strictly forbids all fun or tenderness), sets out to find the missing Something, passing through a bizarre variety club and evading the Devil who intends (literally) to send him to hell in a handcart; by chance he finds the idyllic community of Curly Flats, where the inhabitants have the playfulness and innocence of children, and – literally and figuratively – mend our hero's broken teapot.
Every single detail counts, from the crescent moon occasionally seen in the night sky to the single flower that pokes through the boards of the Swiss-Army stage (there's always another location – tree, bench, shack – that can be folded out of it). The Deeper Meaning, though, is far less complex: "Love one another and you will be happy," intones Ivor Cutier's voice-over; "it's as simple and as difficult as that. Amen." Magical beyond words.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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