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Home arrow Archive: Earlier Fringes arrow Archive: Edinburgh 2011 arrow The Chronicles of Bitter and Twisted
The Chronicles of Bitter and Twisted
Published on Monday, 08 August 2011

3 stars

Assembly George Square (venue website)
3-14, 16-29 Aug, 11:50am-12:50pm
Reviewed by Craig Thomson

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.

The Chronicles of Bitter and Twisted promises an 'urban sequel' to The Ugly Duckling, told through puppetry.  And in that regard, this sweet and ultimately uplifting little tale is largely successful.

There are, in fact, two intertwined plots at play: it starts out with the beginnings of an awkward friendship between two human birdwatchers, before the puppets come to the fore.  Everyone is familiar with the story of the ugly duckling – the cygnet raised as a duck before realising he is a beautiful swan.  Except in this story, he is spurned by his fellow swans and instead becomes a twisted recluse.  Twisted Swan's counterpart in the tale is Bitter Duck, a corresponding duckling raised by swans.

I think Bitter Duck herself is a triumph – although her features are largely static, she is very endearing, and her little gang-style hoodie gives her a bit of attitude.  She first appears spraying a Banksy-style stencil on the hedge, rebelling against her swan upbringing.  But equally rejected by the ducks, she wanders out into the reeds and encounters Twisted Swan, before deciding to participate in... a sporting event.

This is where it all goes a bit meta: the human twitchers, who reappear between scene changes, are watching the fantastical bird Olympics (or at least regional championships) which Bitter Duck is competing in, fully aware of its significance.  Not really important, I guess, but a bit odd – at least to this adult.  Of course, in the end Bitter and Twisted become good friends and learn an important lesson about accepting yourself.

The principal puppets worked well – Twisted Swan was not merely twisted, but bloated in the face and stubby-beaked, quite delightfully far from the elegance normally associated with the swan.  Many other elements were interesting to begin with, but would benefit from a little tightening.  For instance, the children in the audience initially reacted well to the crazy old coots as they popped up one-by-one behind the hedge.  But grouped en masse, the birds descended into a style of chop-socky squawking that very quickly outstayed its welcome.

There were a few other bits of lengthy dialogue or awkward characterisation that could usefully be cut back or toned down.  Nonetheless, The Chronicles of Bitter and Twisted is an interesting reinterpretation with some nice lead puppets, a lovely ethereal climax, and a strong message about finding your place by the pond.

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