The Puppet Theatre Barge started its life in 1982, thanks to Gren & Juliet Middleton (of Movingstage Marionette Company). In the summer months the converted Thames lighter ventures to Richmond-upon-Thames, but between October & July it can be found moored in north London’s Little Venice. Its current production is String Theatre’s adaptation of The Red Balloon – originally an Albert Lamorisse short film about a young boy who becomes friends with a balloon.
Told with no dialogue, the story is one of childhood friendship; once the boy encounters the balloon for the first time (floating & sentient) they become practically inseparable. Between the two of them they’re able to go on little adventures & take on the world together – even coming across another similar pair of friends along the way.
The action is backed by music from Josh Middleton, which not only brings across the French setting, but also reflects the mood of the particular scene. For example, you can sense the threat from a group of boys later on from the urgency in the music.
The range of backdrops are wonderfully designed, and evocative of a France from well known paintings. Transitions between scenes are cleverly managed, by fading the lights down until only the bench is visible – and then fading back up to reveal a lovely surprise. The balloon figures cast beautiful light patterns on the stage thanks to the material from which they’re made, creating a magical technicolour spectacle.
The marionettes themselves are charmingly designed by Stan Middleton & Soledad Zárate, and manipulated in an extremely lifelike (but playful) manner by Middleton, Zárate & Elizabeth Barron. It’s particularly impressive that the balloons are still puppets themselves, but the strings they’re attached to are nigh on impossible to see – so it actually appears as if they’re floating around of their own accord. All elements come together to create a delightful world full of childlike wonder.
It is wonderful to see that this traditional form of entertainment & storytelling remains popular – and that the many children in the audience were sat enraptured for the 45-minute performance. This sort of story really does capture the imagination of young & old, showing that there can be wonder in the everyday.
My verdict? A delightful show in a charming setting, full of the wonders of puppetry & the magic of theatre – a fantastic experience for all the family.
The Red Balloon runs at the Puppet Barge Theatre until 19 March 2017. Tickets are available from firstname.lastname@example.org, 020 7249 6876 or on the door.