Figurentheatre Tübingen are a German-based puppetry company. Their show Wunderkammer is an exploration of traditional string puppetry performed by three puppeteers. It takes the form of a showcase: a dozen or so puppets are exhibited, with short narrative sequences to show off their capabilities and to capture the moods they evoke.
Like nearly all puppetry companies, Figurentheatre Tübingen make the puppets that they perform with – and half the joy of this show comes from simply seeing the products of their creation. There are some strange characters: a translucent arachnid-like figure that skulks around the space, interacting with soap bubbles; a wooden puppet that looks like a cross between a skinned rabbit and one of the models in Les Demoiselles D’Avignon – sensuous, but with inverted limbs and an odd angularity; a crazy-eyed fur-ball with scissors for hands. You get the general impression.
String marionettes are something that seem to have gone out of fashion in the puppetry world, with hand manipulated puppets, or modern takes on the Bunraku tradition (where controls are located at the back of the torso) being much more common – so it’s nice to see the form continuing to be practiced. It’s messier than other types of puppet, and no doubt harder – but that all makes the pay off when these creatures come to life even greater.
There’s a definite surrealist influence at play – with unusual juxtapositions and a bold palette reminiscent of de Chirico and others. But more than anything else, I was reminded of the puppetry of Jan Svankmajer – incorporating found objects into other-worldly creations that depart about as far from figurative art as is possible whilst still remaining the anthropomorphic dimension that is ultimately responsible for our engagement as an audience.
Quite old fashioned stuff – but expertly done, and visually both unusual and rich.