Ashes at Jacksons LaneCultureTheatre
The relationship between puppet and puppeteer is one of endless possibility. With Ashes, French-Norwegian ensemble Plexus Polaire prove they’re experts at exploring the form.
This might be one of the most epic puppetry pieces ever seen. Three performers are outnumbered by life-size puppets and a host of smaller counterparts. Add to this the interaction of the one human cast member, lots of projection, a deliciously foreboding soundtrack and some special effects, and Ashes is quite the spectacle.
Inspired by the true events in the novel Before I Burn, this is the story of a tormented writer and an occurrence that has followed him all his life. When he was young, an arsonist wreaked havoc on his town. The perpetrator’s identity remained a mystery. As the writer sits down to type his tale, he conjures Dag into being: an enigmatic puppet with an irresistible attraction to fire. Digging deeper, he’s confronted with the parallels between Dag and himself.
The puppetry is exquisite. Operated using the Bunraku method with direct contact from the puppeteers, each one is eerily human. Dag is complete in his detail: twinkling black eyes, working eyelids and clammy-looking skin. Another breathes out real smoke after a puff on a cigarette. The use of differently sized puppets and the multi-layered set allow the action to zoom in and out cinematically.
Two black-clad puppeteers are far from unbiased. They’re complicit in the writer’s drunkenness, providing an endless carousel of beers for him. They whisper in Dag’s ear, egging him on as he hesitates over his lit match and carton of petrol.
There is a sacredness to each scene. The town is a collection of little houses suspended from thread, intricate projections playing in their windows. The smaller puppets eat from miniature cereal boxes and blow their noses on tiny tissues. With no back wall, the puppets step into the light and into existence, and are swallowed by the dark as they exit. The atmosphere hangs ever heavier until it suffocates. Respite is offered in short bursts whenever Dag’s lighter bursts into flame. The show is a homage to light and dark and the dichotomy of beauty and horror of each.
Ashes is a production for anyone who likes their theatre black as pitch. Dag’s zealous eyes will stay with them.
Ashes is at Jacksons Lane as part of London International Mime Festival from 27th until 29th January 2017, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Ashes here: