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Review: Ouroboros

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Ouroboros at the Baxter TheatreThe stage was set for an evening of magic and wonder. The empty wheelchair and blank screen at the rear of the stage suggested anything was possible. What eventually unfolded certainly left me in awe, but not for the right reasons.

As expected the puppeteers did a thrilling job of bringing the puppets’ static bodies to life. As I watched two or three puppeteers at work I could swear that the puppet was more alive than they were. It was as if the puppet had inherited the life-force of the puppeteers.  The motions of the human body, from an old grandmother to an energetic little girl, were precisely mimicked, giving the puppets an unnerving air of consciousness. The non-human characters such as the antelope and the figure of death were also beautifully brought to life, creating sentient beings out of wood and metal constructions.

Where the play fell hard and short was in its narrative. The moment the narrator first bellowed out that it was the beginning of the play, and proceeded to list a number of clichéd metaphors for beginnings, I felt the first prickles of dread for the decadent self-indulgence that was to come. I tried to limit it to a criticism that the play moved too slowly or that I was somehow missing the point, but there’s no denying that the production has a fatal flaw. At every point it is either trying too hard to make meaning or the action is completely stagnant. The play is never allowed simply to roll along.   Where there should be a series of maybe five key moments, Ouroboros is almost always at a key moment. Everything is emphasised to a point where the suspension of disbelief is stifled.  It’s impossible to just let one’s imagination run wild and as such the stunning artistry of the puppeteers is undermined by the over-exaggerated detail of the story. There is no rest for the audience, just a series of relentless ‘meaningful moments’.

It would seem this production rides the coattails of the Handspring Puppet Company’s Tony award-winning production, Warhorse. Perhaps it’s a case of the Oscar curse – most ‘Best Actor’ or ‘Best Actress’ Academy Award winners seem to follow their success with a really dire film.

After waiting years to see a real live production by Handspring I was sorely disappointed. At times magical and bursting with precise realism, these moments are not enough to save the production. Moving from the pretentious, to the overly meaningful, to the utterly banal, Ouroboros never quite knows what it’s doing. It holds its finger crossed in the hopes that audiences will be drawn in by the company’s previous work. My final thought? I remain an avid fan of the company, but this production should not have left the rehearsal room.

Mustapha Hendricks
(@woict_highlife)
Ouroboros ran at the Baxter Theatre from 1 -11 June 2011.  

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Discussion2 Comments

  1. Great talent on stage with the puppetry, but the story COMPLETELY lost me at least 6 or 7 times. The repeating music also got on my nerves a bit. I found myself on the back foot, trying not to let my frustrations with the music or storyline get in the way of a good night out. The production definitely had some magical moments but it also had some tragic moments. Also not recommended, however, I’ll be back for HPC again.

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  2. Mustapha – wholeheartedly agree! Apparently, this particular production was not created by the original HPC creators, so that might explain the poor quality of this work – although HPC should not have lent its name to this production. I agree that the play was steeped in sentimentality and cliches, and was long, boring and – worst of all – pretentious, as it kept on saying to the audience “Look at how clever and poignant and meaningful this all is.” Nothing more irritating for an audience than to have its intelligence constantly undermined. This wouldn’t have been so bad if Ouroboros actually had a plot, or was engaging — but the story, such as it was, never really took off. Even the puppets were not integral, as the action could have occurred with human actors. Why puppets at all? They didn’t really add anything magical or unique to the production, but simply traded on the mere use of puppets to draw the audience in. Not enough – if you’re going to use puppets, they should be doing something that ordinary actors cannot do. Ouroboros was an accurate name only in this sense — that the production was so far ‘up its own backside’ that it couldn’t see where it was going. Definitely NOT recommended!

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