Half A String’s blend of Greek mythology and folk music transform a simple story into a beautiful piece of storytelling. With words not spoken but sung, Boulder tells the story of one man’s determination to succeed through the use of exquisitely-crafted puppets and animation.
The aesthetic of Boulder is a marvel to behold. Starting with understated but whimsical animation, we are introduced to our Sisyphean figure who is determined to move a boulder up a mountain; an Olympian-worthy task, as demonstrated in the sheer size of the boulder waiting for him onstage.Behind the ambitious individual are puppeteers Louisa Ashton and Nick Halliwell. Alternating between a child-size puppet and a much smaller version of the old man, the dexterity of the puppets and their expressiveness is fascinating to watch. While he may not speak, he certainly isn’t silent, as Ashton and Halliwell present our protagonist as a grumbling, whimpering old man. As his efforts become more precarious and futile, we cannot help but feel for this fragile being. It is unsurprising that the puppeteers themselves become attached to the man, unwilling to see him fail or be hurt further. It is endearing to watch the four performers come together as a symbol of support and encouragement for the man as he refuses to give up, and we are right there beside them.
The intricacies of the puppets and props designed for this production are exquisite and add wonder to an already whimsical production. The ethereal atmosphere provided by guitarist and singer, Avi Simmons, alongside cellist, Mike Bacon, allows the audience to share in the man’s struggle and inevitable frustrations as the boulder rolls down the mountain time and time again. The raw vocals and stripped-back folk style of the music compliment the earthiness of the production’s design, along with the resilience that makes the human condition so remarkable to explore.
Despite the repetition of the man’s actions, Boulder never grows tiresome. The diffusion of animation throughout the performance allows for the play’s ingenuity to feel present throughout. The secrets hidden within the boulder – far from an inanimate, unassuming prop – adds further curiosity to an already awe-inspiring production.
Masterful in their design and execution, Half A String have created something very special here. An uplifting performance, Boulder will leave you feeling hopeful as you face your own impossible-seeming endeavours.