Photo: Paddy Vargas. One of the most satisfying aspects of the annual Puppets Up International Puppet Festival in Almonte is its carnival atmosphere. For two days, the main street is full of puppets, face painters, clowns, street musicians, craft tents, cotton candy and visiting families. Their view may be of a lanky stilt walker dancing to a rock ‘n roll ditty from one of the street entertainers, a pint-sized smiling version of Spiderman with his face immaculately covered in scarlet and black make-up, puppets chatting from one of the balconies or the midday parade of the entire puppet contingent. Store windows decorated with painted stage drapes and filled with puppets get into the act too and many of the townsfolk are involved as volunteers.
The shows, as with any festival of the fringe theatre type, vary in quality. The best of the 10 offered this year was Cinderella from Tanglewood Marionettes (Massachussetts, U.S.) The familiar fairytale unfolds in front of a storybook set — the pages of the outsize book turned to reveal the numerous locations. The puppeteers, visible but never obtrusive as they manipulate the marionettes, are highly skilled and the show — incorporating a couple of incredible puppetry feats — is highly entertaining for every age group.
Another terrific show is The Puppet Tamer, presented by Tim Holland of Cambridge, ON. He is a multi-talented juggler, ventriloquist and comedian and the happy sounds of laughter fill his venue throughout his show.
How I Became Invisible, presented by Clunk Puppet Lab from Calgary AB, a serious, borderline solemn, show about aging is interesting but with less universal appeal than the first two.
Tauromaquia, presented by La cie pelele marionettes from Toulouse, France, is a Punch-and-Judy style show about bullfighting. While it is quite effective in fulfilling its intent and sparked laughter from some audience members, this is not a show for those who are not amused by slapstick comedy and are opposed to bullfighting (that includes me!). It would also have been more effective in a smaller venue.
I was looking for garlic, I found pistachio from Whispering Theatre, Montreal/Algiers, employed some interesting puppetry and hand manipulation but definitely required a more intimate space to be effective.
The most disappointing show that I saw was the local offering, Happy Birthday, Jimmy, by Mississippi Mills Productions. The Jimmy of the title is James Naismith, Almonte native and the founder of basketball, whose bronze likeness sits halfway up the street. The lightweight story line is arranging a surprise party to celebrate his 150th birthday. In addition to appearing silly and exploitive in general, it includes an offensive version of Queen Victoria and little else of substance except for an enthusiastic young fiddler.
The remaining shows (which I did not see) were: Adrift by Zach Fraser Creations, Montreal and NS; Dragon Glouton by Gestes Theâtre, Gatineau QC; The Giant Magician by Panadream Theatre, Montreal QC; and Pirate Treasure by Rock the Arts! Ottawa ON.
Iris Winston, Almonte, August 13, 2012