If you’re in search of a piece of charming and slightly eccentric night-time entertainment on this year’s Fringe, then this much-loved show from the Old Trout Puppet Workshop in Calgary, Alberta – finally making its Edinburgh debut at the Canada Hub, after a decade on the touring circuit – could fit the bill perfectly.
Famous Puppet Death Scenes, Canada Hub @ King’s Hall (Venue 73) ****
Staged on a beautifully lit magic-box set with an atmosphere of Edwardian or 1920s theatre about it, the show offers a meditation on death through a series of short interludes with elaborate titles, like brief silent movies staged in rich puppet-theatre live action.
So there’s the portly singer of operatic ballads constantly crushed in mid-aria by a giant foot, along with sad lost figures seeking one another in romantic tempests, odd Mervyn Peake-like fantasies of sad demise presented in shadow-play, a giant book that opens to hint at a story of fatal domestic violence, and occasional moments of all-too-vivid realism, as an elderly figure on a bed breathes their last.
There’s plenty of humour and absurdism to these Famous Puppet Death Scenes, in other words, but also, sometimes, a Beckettian sense of stoicism about our lives on the edge of the abyss. And there’s also an old philosopher-puppet figure who comes and goes throughout the 70 minutes of the show, offering us his thoughts on mortality – and towards the end, facing his own final moments. “We cannot protect our hearts,” he tells the audience at the last. “We must not do this alone.”
And in those moments, this endlessly rich, inventive and amusing show achieves what only the greatest puppetry can: making it easier for us to empathise with the little, simplified version of humanity in the puppet that stands before us, than it might be to feel at one with a breathing, complex human actor, speaking exactly the same words.
• Until 26 August, 8:30pm