Review: A new killer in a new town

21 March 2016

by Joseph Winer

I just love puppets. I think it’s fascinating how glued-together pieces of felt can be brought to life to the point where I actually feel for them. There was a brilliant moment when Harvey B. Feltz (James Roscow) entered with his hands tied together, and I felt genuinely upset. A build-up of life through these inanimate creatures led me to this point, in a show that was superb in writing, direction and execution of performances.

The Toyland Murders tells a murder-mystery detective story, as Inspector McGraw (Amy Brough-Akin) tries to track down the culprit of the mysterious murders that are happening in downtown Toyland. Director and designer Ben Hollands presented a perfect blend of sound, story and puppetry to create a delightfully entertaining production.

Puppetry is so easy to do badly and so difficult to master. A puppeteer is not only responsible for themselves as a performer, but also for the breath, energy and character of their puppet. Across the board, the actors delivered the perfect balance of puppetry manipulation with personal performance skills, giving a 50/50 human-to-puppet presentation. Brough-Akin’s expression brought her puppet’s face to life, while Roscow moved his puppet with the happy-go-lucky bounce that he needed. Charlotte Kirkman (as Scratch, a sort of master evil-villain wannabe) captured the movement of her puppet with the shapes of her own body, and all performers excelled with their vocal skills, creating quirky, cartoon character voices, with intonation that perfectly fitted the “Toyland” theme of the piece.

Hollands’ script was simply fab. With a collection of cheesy catch lines and flowing dialogue, the 60 minutes sped by in a flash. Darcey Graham’s lighting design cast some beautiful spots and shapes across the stage, and the entire design was a flawless representation of the concept.

Hollands has not only created a brilliant piece of theatre, but he’s somehow managed to create something that I believe would please a wide range of audiences. Essentially, this show could very much be looked upon as a children’s production; with an inoffensive script and colourful storyline, I’m sure a young audience would have been thoroughly entertained. And yet, the audience of (mostly) 16 to 25 year olds laughed at all the right bits and enjoyed it just as much. Hollands has somehow created such a genius piece of work, that it would work for anybody.

In a world where theatre often tries to be political, complex or mask a hidden agenda, sometimes it’s nice to just see something for the sake of entertainment.  

Photo credit: Aenne Pallasca