One slightly off-beat puppet, three men dressed in black and a single table. It sounds like the punch-line to an overly analytical joke. Happily, what we get instead is a madcap hour of surreal music hall comedy, performed by a man who isn’t really alive. It’s just as odd as it sounds, and completely hilarious.
Returning to Edinburgh for the first time since 2012, and having premiered here the previous year, The Table was originally conceived as a retelling of the Passover story for the Jewish Institute in London – an unsettling fact when you learn that, prior even to this, Blind Summit Theatre originally based the head of the puppet on an anti-Semitic cartoon, in order to portray 1984‘s villainous Emmanuel Goldstein. The company state that they didn’t end up using the puppet in that production, partly because they felt he was too cute. It’s hard to disagree. Moses, as he is brought to life, is a compelling figure; part Biblical legend, part chancing grumbler, and all London wide-boy. It’s hard to pin down exactly what the show is – no bad thing – but what it is most like is puppet stand-up, with heavy shades of Eddie Izzard. Moses wins the audience onside from the first few minutes, before wandering off on topics and tangents, flirting outrageously and demonstrating his own unusual style of mime. One very quickly forgets that this is an inanimate object, made from cloth and cardboard.
But if Moses takes all the credit as the front man, so to speak, accolades must go to the men acting as his handlers/jailers/minions. It’s a physically exhausting show – particularly for Moses’s “legs”, who have to take several short breaks – and the puppeteers throw themselves into the performance (sometimes literally). They manage to work in a basic guide to a good puppetry performance, alongside the lampooning of several common tropes of modern day physical theatre. Specifically, folk tales (‘here I go again to fetch the water, fetching the water – what are you doing with all this water anyway??’) and German expressionism. The latter – a lazy target, you might think – is especially hilarious, featuring as it does a man screaming ‘Ein tisch! Ein tisch’ at a long-suffering table whilst another pretends to shit on the floor. It’s a high point in a performance that never forgets to make the audience feel part of the action – with tears of laughter streaming down their faces.