Will A Cockroach and Furry Blurry Fluffy Things turn out to be the most deeply charming show of the festival this year? The too-cute-to-compute gauntlet has been thrown. A cockroach – not a creature of delight, usually – enters a box of pineapple cake in Taiwan, and so begins an unlikely voyage away from his cockroach pals, across the sea to London. It would be a cold heart indeed that did not find itself rooting for our tiny protagonist. The artistry of Team Furry Tails, a group of three young Taiwanese artists, is evident in every facet of this inventive and whimsical production.
The story, told through a brilliantly inventive combination of traditional shadow-puppetry, mask, mime, and hand-and-rod puppetry, switches between these modes often enough to keep even the youngest children engaged, but the variety of devices provides more than novelty, it allows the story a great range of scope and scale. A voyage across oceans, a cockroach’s experience in a litter bin, a gloomy afternoon in a scruffy London park – all are communicated wordlessly and clearly, with plenty of humour and emotional resonance. The puppetry itself is seriously impressive. The largest puppet, operated by all three of Team Furry Tails, is compelling to watch, his movements – sometimes authentically bug-like, sometimes highly anthropomorphic – are so naturalistic that it is almost surprising to look at the puppeteers in the background, see how busy they all are, and realise that it takes three separate individuals to render this compelling character, so alive and individual does he seem. The rehearsal process must be tight indeed.
The cockroach, wordlessly, convinces and compels to a greater degree than many actual people appearing on stage this August will manage. The supporting cast of puppets – a dog, a cat, a fox, a squirrel and a flock of pigeons – are all operated in such a way that the spirit of the animal is captured. The puppets proudly display a minimalism in their artifice that only adds to the whimsy. Materials such as dishcloths or rubber gloves celebrate, rather than disguise, their composition. Often this chimes with the theme: the pigeons, for example, in the dirty park, are made of what looks like discarded chip-wrappers. The whole set is built entirely from cardboard boxes, re-stacked between scenes to form new vistas, rotated to reveal yet more bonny hand-painted sides, the detail, and artistry of which, like every well thought out aspect of this production, elevate A Cockroach and Furry Blurry Fluffy Things into something quite magical.
A truly immersive hour: prepare to fall in love with a cockroach.