This week I went to see a charming puppet show: Miss Ophelia at the Barbican.
The award-winning production was by Dutch company Het Filiaal and performed in English. Two lively performers (Ramses Graus and Mirthe Klieverik) used black & white tabletop and shadow puppetry to tell the story. Together they conjured up a world of cardboard houses, toy theatres, shadow screens, flurrying snowflakes and fairylight stars.
(Or to put it another way, “Poppen, papier, karton, spel, muziek, licht en schaduwen.”)
The story was adapted from Michael Ende’s book ‘Ophelia’s Shadow Theatre’. A soft-spoken lady with a passion for theatre finds work as a prompter, until her theatre closes down. After that, she begins collecting lost shadows. One gloomy day, her shadow friends put on a play to cheer her up, and a new theatre company is born.
Graus and Klieverik were bursting with energy, playing several roles each and operating the puppets. There’s a review here which refers to ‘a quality of organised chaos… roaring along at a gleeful pace like a pair of children playing pretend.’ It was just like that, and it’s always such a pleasure to see so many flashes of creativity in a puppet show.
Each prop was used in several imaginative ways — a red velvet cloth was the curtain of a toy theatre one minute, an opera singer’s cape the next. There were several anglepoise lamps, there to cast light, be a telephone handset, or upturned and used as a soup bowl!
It was also refreshing to see the subjects of birth and death handled with such lightness of touch, in a way that was gentle, moving and beautiful.
I saw the last performance at the Barbican, there were two school groups there, plus a pair of grandparents and their granddaughter. Because we were in the front row, we were worried about ruining the view of the schoolchildren, so the granddad and I decided to sit cross-legged on the floor. It wasn’t very comfortable, but it certainly added to my feeling of childlike wonder. You can find a few different video trailers on YouTube in English and Dutch, here is one: