By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Kamloops based Chimera Theatre takes part of their shows to many a Fringe Festival. Over the past couple of years, the variety they offer range from dance to folklore to history to myth and the list does not necessarily end there. I may have to consider moving to their home base to see the remaining half of what they produce.
Their latest performance is The Robber Bridegroom. This adaptation of the Brothers Grimm take differs from their last tribute from years ago which blended equal parts live action with puppet theatre. This revision is far darker and the spectacle is told with glorious haunting imagery which defines many a piece of Germanic folklore. Writer Andrew G. Cooper injected a lot of wonderful additions which lives up to this company’s name. To see puppets whose only lines which sounds like Beaker from the Muppets is quite often what I recall from my dreams too.
When considering the last moments in the original take has the groom saying it was a delusion of the subconscious mind to the bride, I am sure Cooper was drawing on a lot of astral-based imagery in the huge flashback sequence which makes up this work. The only safety was a cute blue bird. Had I been there, I’d be heeding her warnings than forging ahead. I’d also be wanting to stay safe under her protective wings and not want to leave at all. You can find my full review (#spoileralert) on sister site, twohungryblokes.com
In this article is my technical analysis of the work. The style of puppetry used here includes shadow, Bunraku, marionette and body to create the dream realm. Unlike the Japanese style where the animators are dressed in black and hidden from view, the performers here are visible to move the characters in the three dimensional space. After having learned about the art form from master puppeteer Mike Quinn (see interview here) and doing further study, I had to admire the dedication this company has to enhance the craft.
When looking back at the past shows I’ve been to–Perseus & Andromeda, and The Untold Tales of the Brothers Grimm–to think Chimera Theatre started 2015 suggests they will think of bigger and even more imaginative plays in the future. Their other catalogue of works shows they love the medieval. They certainly have a firm grip in creating the phantasmagoric on stage. As for what else can they do, it’s anyone’s guess.
Personally, I’d love to see them offer a retelling of the myth of Pandora from Hesiod‘s Works and Days. Other ideas include retelling the Ancient Egyptian story of Isis and Osiris. It’s ripe for retelling in puppet theatre form when considering how the Pharaoh turned Lord of the Underworld was found in a tree. The Robber Bridegroom is proof they can do it. From Nordic traditions, Ragnorak is the best known. Even some part of the Journey to the West (the Monkey King) is a possibility. The key to a terrific play is to select a story that has a built-in community of followers that loves that legend.
Sadly, due to the nature with how these Fringe festivals work, shows are selected by lottery. A chance exists for a group to not tour for a year. Mochinosha, The Wishes Mystical Puppet Company creates equally haunting shadow puppet shows in the finest Japanese traditions. I miss them. At present, they are hard at work with a new production, and if they’re not back, I’ll travel to another Fringe fest to get my supernatural on. All I need is a Star Trek transporter to make zipping over instantaneous.