Upon entering La Boite's reconfigured theatre space I was confronted by the physical presence of the Old Man asleep in his wheelchair within a dilapidated bookstore. My first impression upon entering was that we (the audience) were to be presented with a traditional display of puppetry within a conventional space but we were soon to discover, that the space itself, acted as the first aesthetic layer of a sumptuous, multi-faceted delight.
As the narrator heralded the beginning of the tale, three players worked in disciplined unity to deftly articulate characteristics and mannerisms of the Old Man. It is worth pointing out that these three players were not merely puppeteers but acted as extensions of the puppets character, companions in his isolation and protectors of his well being. As the players set about theatrical animism, the narrator depicted the city the Old Man inhabits and its tragic downfall.
Throughout this narration the audience was introduced to the textual and immersive brilliance of the Dead Puppets Society's animation work. Once the exposition was said and shown, The Harbinger arrived in the form of the Young Girl, scared and filthy, fleeing from ominous figures of authority and seeking sanctuary within the Old Man's bookstore. At first the old man is wary of this intrusion from a world he would rather forget but sensing her plight, he soon turns to comforting her and takes her in.
Time passes peacefully enough until one day dreams and secrets are shared between the two new found friends. The Old Man reveals the source of his pain and of his hope in the form of a story book and it is here the story of the Soldier is told. The Young Girl, with love for her newfound father figure, sneaks out of the bookstore one fateful night and spreads the pages of the book, segments of the soldier/saviour's prophecy throughout the post-apocalyptic town. Upon discovery of this unforseen heraldry, the Old Man, at first enraged, soon allows himself to feel hope and even happiness as hope for the restoration of their town slowly sinks in.
Like the exposition, the tale of the Soldier is brought to life through truly skilled and stunning animation projected on the wall of the bookstore. The animation, painstakingly realised, acts as the binding of two modes of narrative storytelling – Theatre & Storybook.
As time passed and the sun, once again, began to shine, the Old Man allowed himself to remember his relationship with his Wife. These memories are made visible to the Young Girl but her reverie is broken by dark and violent images which suggest the tragedy of the past conceals the potential truth of now. Hope begins to crumble and the blackness of desolation returns as the Young Girl realises the identity of the Soldier and the reality of his history. At this point, the projected animation dissolves to reveal a macabre marionette show that plays out the true outcome of the prophecy of the Soldier.
The Old Man cannot bear this clouding of his crystal ball as the memories of his own and the town's tragedy come home to roost. The Young Girl flees from the Old man's rage and torment and heads into the town's streets at night in a desperate attempt to eradicate the false prophecy she had previously spread but, no matter how many pages she tries to regain, the chagrin of the town folk cannot be mitigated and she is made to pay for her lies with her life. Once again the Old Man sleeps and the pages fall from up on high to down below within the bookstore. The pages are torn as history lies in tatters. The aesthetic and narrative unities are complete and silence reigns once more.
The Harbinger was a truly moving tale executed with skill, precision and emotional clarity.