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The Great Puppet Horn
Published on Saturday, 25 August 2012
3

3 stars

Underbelly, Cowgate (venue website)
Comedy
2-14, 16-26 Aug, 5:30pm-6:30pm
Reviewed by Liam McKenna

 Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.
 Recommended for age 12+ only.

The puppets are of the shadowy kind; “the Horn,” they tell us, “is ambiguous.” It has the air of something different: comedy and puppets rammed together. At least that’s the premise. And the show starts off with aplomb. The duo run out, greet everyone, shake hands, fling their shoes to one side, then dart round the back of the screen for a well-worked moon landing. It’s an introduction full of quick-fire gags, and has the audience in raptures, as the two dispose of redundant props simply by chucking them carelessly to one side. But I’m afraid to say it doesn’t last.

At first it’s a kooky sketch show. The pair flick between intimate scenes inside 10 Downing Street, and Grammar Cop, a police officer who cares a little too much about the misuse of apostrophes. It works fine as a bunch of sketches played out with shadow puppets, but then somewhere along the line, it morphs into a narrative about a bipolar bear (get it?) that never really comes off as well as the intention behind it.

The Great Puppet Horn has all the right tools. The puppets are well-made and evocative (Sean Connery’s eyebrows are quite something!), the timing is spot on, and they manage the transitions between scenes well with bellowing vocals and behind-the-scenes antics. But the content definitely needs some work. The jokes don’t pack enough punch; some feel like first drafts, or settling for a lack of better ideas. A lot of the voices are also very similar.

For the most part, it simply delivers weak political satire. Nick Clegg depicted as the No.10 dog felt a bit obvious, as did the Duchess of Cornwall as a horse. There are jokes in here that might have been refreshing and funny two years ago, but now feel like well-trodden paths, like watching a re-run of Have I Got News For You on Dave – only with shadow puppets and a bit less bite. Unless you’ve got something new to say that doesn’t just remind you how depressing times are, I’d try a different approach.

The show is certainly topical, and covers a lot of contemporary issues (politics, the Church’s stance on gay marriage, Transformers, etc.) But instead of focussing on neat, quirky little details, The Horn concentrate on general aspects… and it gets old quickly. There are entertaining moments, like the installation of wind turbines as a metaphor for gay marriage, but I admired the idea more than the execution. And Billy the Bipolar Bear’s story of migrating to England has potential, but it went on too long, didn’t have a gripping or funny enough plot, and the character itself is a bit flat.

Fusing cardboard puppets and political satire could be unique and, as I’ve seen it branded elsewhere, “a successor to Spitting Image”… but there’s a long way to go. Outside the venue I passed a young chap who waved a flyer in my face and asked if I was interested in political satire. I said I’d had enough satire for one day, thanks.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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