Open the Owl, from The Ljublana Puppet Theatre (LPT), redefines the notion of ‘immersive’ theatre, with a spell-binding reworking of Slovenian master puppeteer, Milan Klemenčič’s 1936 show, Sovji grad (The Owl Castle). Spell-binding, and not a little jaw-dropping, I suggest you step inside this existentialist fairy-tale if you ever have the opportunity.
Open the Owl
📍 Summerhall, Edinburgh
📅 06 – 15 February 2020
🕖 7:30pm Fri – Sat / 5:00pm Sat
🕖 Running time: 50 minutes (no interval)
👥 Created and performed by The Ljublana Puppet Theatre (LPT)
📚 New writing
💰 From £10
🎭 Slovenian language with English surtitles. The performance requires audience to be mobile. Seating can be provided on request.
The world of performance art lives upon an intravenous drip of “re-imagination.” First came Cinderella, and sometime after, Cinderfella; Apocalypse Now took its DNA from Heart of Darkness. This is not a criticism, merely an observation; after all, if there are only seven basic plots, then a creative’s choices are limited.
When discussing Open the Owl, from Slovenian national treasure, LPT, however, it’s important to distinguish this de rigueur pattern of repeated inspiration, from what is achieved here. Yes, the puppets are loving copies of the 1936 originals, and yes, the base story is a fairy-tale fable of being careful what you wish for. That is where, I presume, all similarities end between it, and this re-vision by French director, Renaud Herbin.
The audience begins its experience, sitting or standing, before a fairly conventional, if small, marionette stage. A tiny announcer takes to the apron to introduce the story and some of its history, all in Slovenian, and translated via projected caption. Shortly thereafter we meet Kasperl, a cunning, and devious, good for nothing. Out for a stroll, this collapsed pillar of society, encounters a talking owl. After getting over his amazement at meeting a talking owl, he learns that should he pluck a feather from the remarkable avian, it will grant him a wish.
Which is when his world, and that of the performers, and the audience begins to change. I have no intention of describing what follows in detail, it deserves to be experienced with fresh, unexpecting eyes. However, the first moment when I knew I was about to experience something completely new, was upon the appearance of a human foot upon the tiny stage, followed, with admirable flexibility, by the rest of puppeteer, Iztok Lužar. Honestly, if you’ve ever wanted to experience, The Ring (Ringu to the purists), in person, you could do worse than see this show.
The show takes Kasperl and the Owl on an existential journey. Able to have anything for which he wishes, the former confronts the emptiness of what remains. Seeking a dark redemption, and tied to the fate of this power-drunk hedonist, the Owl wrestles with the cost. Franz Pocci’s story is recognisable, but in Célia Houdart’s hands, it becomes a genuinely philosophical enquiry. There’s plenty of humour, however, and a true sense of adventure, to compliment the deeper, darker waters of the piece. Song is used with particularly skin-tingling results.
The puppeteers are highly technically accomplished, deftly switch between puppetry and physical performance. Iztok Lužar has an almost Christoper Lee quality to his voice; good for bed time stories, and vampires. Maja Kunšič proves dextrous with both strings, and song. Their utterly invested performances invite the audience’s complete attentions.
The audience demanded multiple curtain calls, and rightly so; the performers, and this splendid show, were both absolutely wonderful. Edinburgh is so very lucky to have the Manipulate Festival, and the people behind it, to bring such world-class, and original work to the city. There is a sequel to this show, the second part of a diptych, which premiered last year: At the Still Point of the Turning World. I wouldn’t hesitate to see it were I ever to get the chance (nudge, nudge organisers…)
Open the Owl played as part of the Manipulate Festival from the 06 – 15 February 2020.
For more information about the Manipulate Festival, visit: https://www.manipulatefestival.org/
More information about The Ljublana Puppet Theatre can be found at: http://www.lgl.si/en/
Image courtesy of Jaka Varmuz
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