Puppets | Panimo Pandemonium Festival

Image by Monique Harmer

Apps like Tinder and Bumble and Hinge were supposed to make dating easier but the plethora of fish in the digital sea hasn’t resulted in Liv’s happily ever after. But the dire state of heterosexuality doesn’t stop a girl from dreaming, living vicariously through love ballads, or anthropomorphising her puppet pals as deadbeat exes, now, does it?

Puppets, conceived of and starring Olivia Ruggiero, was a cabaret of pop songs and musical theatre gems strung together to tell the tale of Liv’s less-than-successful dating life thus far. The narrative wove together the fantasy of Prince Charming and strapping musical theatre heroes with the reality of a bunch of Muppets populating her 25 years. The set and production design captured Liv’s exuberant personality and enthusiasm for musical theatre with the bright bodies of the puppets, a wall of patterned dresses, and a lighting design not afraid of colourful washes. Similarly, the direction from Carly Fisher demonstrated how rich and full Liv’s life was with big gestures and a bold playfulness in her expressions that filled the stage despite her solo status.

Ruggiero’s clear, pleasant voice showed great versatility as she moved between different musical theatre eras and into contemporary pop. Some mash-ups were particularly impressive including a humorous “duet” mash-up of “Marry Me” by Bruno Mars and “(Not) Getting Married Today” from Company. Accompaniment by Charlotte Leamon was also flexible and creative adding another meta element to the production with Ruggiero acknowledging her presence in the apartment like an imaginary constant.

The production revelled in the things that filled Liv with joy; the colours, textures, sounds of her true self. Amongst it all, Liv was bright, bubbly, and loveable in her individuality. But the narrative of bad relationships, lame dates, and disappointments turned the focus of her life on to her one lack. It’s understandable, and completely relatable, to catastrophise and wallow in feelings of failure and loneliness when single in a world that prizes long term monogamy above all else. Rejection and insecurity are universal feelings. But, honestly, it’s a tired story, especially when treated so insularly to focus on one straight, white, able-bodied 20-something who has everything else going for her. In 2022, let’s use the space of new works to push back against the narrative that the most interesting or important thing about a woman, or anyone, is whether she’s partnered up. Let’s challenge the societal norms that make the unpartnered feel insufficient and let’s question our own feelings of shame and failure when our lives don’t match the made-up ones we consume on stage, in books, and on screen.

The stage is a space for fantasy and imagination but theatre is often at its strongest when grappling with the messy, uncomfortable, complex nuances of reality.

Puppets ran at Kings Cross Theatre from February 10th – 12th as part of the Panimo Pandemonium Festival

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