BRUCE: the one-puppet show that turned a foam mattress into a star
Bruce has come a long way. The star of the eponymous lo-fi puppetry show is quite literally a block of yellow foam, carved from a mattress the show’s creators found by the side of a road. A beautiful example of ‘trash puppetry’. A bizarre, but fortuitous, meeting.
I’m delighted to confirm that BRUCE is every bit as zany and fun as its origin story. The show’s set and cast requirements are minimal, with the performance only requiring two performers – both act as mime and puppeteer – dressed in black on a dark stage. Yet with a mere two actors and a yellow foam puppet, BRUCE delivers a whole range of quirky characters and a time-travelling, action-movie-esque plotline.
The storyline cartwheels between past, present, and future, and while it takes some focus to follow from the start, the play rapidly hits its stride and becomes both darkly humorous and more than a little absurd. BRUCE includes a car chase, a rescue from a burning building, a revenge plotline, a rocket launch, a marriage proposal, and even a musical montage where our hero goes on an emotional journey to the tune of Dido’s White Flag. Until you’ve seen a piece of – now surprisingly endearing? – yellow foam sing along to the words “I will go down with this ship”, you haven’t lived.
Indeed, it is ultimately the talent of the actors, as well as that of the sound and light technicians, that brings this play to life. The dramatic blockbuster plotline is rendered comic through the very medium of its puppet protagonists, and the puppeteers draw this humour out right to its limit. No matter the intensity of the scene, tension is always diffused by the sheer entertainment to be found in seeing the performance brought to life by a single foam block and a pair of white-gloved hands.
Over the course of the play, the actors manage to depict everything from a moveable bridge to the inside of a womb (yes), using mime and puppetry alone. It’s an impressive show of skill. And more delightful yet is the degree to which each character in BRUCE’s story becomes recognisable simply through their individual voices and mannerisms. We see – we know – the man with the zimmer frame; the precocious schoolgirl; the sceptical farmer; the overeager host of the televised book review show.
In the end, perhaps what it is most impressive about BRUCE is the way the show’s creators and actors do so much with so little. The mime and puppetry merely traces the picture. However, it does so with such convincing artfulness that it remains effortless and enjoyable for the audience to fill this tracery in themselves.
Created by Australian company, The Last Great Hunt, BRUCE ran from Tuesday 18 June to Saturday 22 June at The Street Theatre, Canberra. Length: 55 minutes, no interval.