Having been back in Newcastle for two days to do my dayjob, the itch was too much and I flew back up (well, I got the train) for two more days seeing my partner and some shows. . .
And then yesterday I saw the best show of my Fringe – the Toyland Murders by Ben Hollands.
Performed by hand-held puppets, with the puppeteers appearing onstage alongside the stuffed characters, The Toyland Murders is at once a gritty, tongue-in cheek, Film Noir Muder Adventure Story and simultaneously packed with a childlike wonder and imagination that makes it nostalgically reminiscent of playing with toys on the living room floor as a child.
We follow Detective Carmen McGraw, a classic no-nonsense city cop, and her deputy, the nervy but efficient teddy bear, Harv Feltz, as they try to track down a killer who’s been rubbin’ out toys all over Toyland. The action unfolds as McGraw and her sidekick visit various not-always-so-cuddly suspects and try to get to the bottom of the mystery, all the while watching out for Jack . . .
Pretty much every film noir murder story trope is picked up, gently picked apart and revelled in, with laugh out loud moments every minute. And given the committed, expressive performances and the visual feast of the show, this is definitely something to take kids along to as well – there’s plenty for all ages.
I’ve not seen many shows performed with puppets before, and certainly don’t know the conventions of the form, but for perhaps the first five minutes or so, I was finding it slightly difficult to by into the puppets as the characters to be watching as they seemed almost to be upstaged by their puppeteers expressive performances. However, after those first few minutes, the actors seemed to blend nicely into the background and I found myself absorbed fully in the world. At this point, the actors exquisite facial expressions added to the performance of the puppets rather than detracted from it.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Ben a couple of times during university, so knew to come into this with high expectations, but this show surpassed them. It’s such a clever, tight script, clearly written with immense enjoyment and belief, and the performances brought out every gag and more poignant moment to their absolute full.
Perfectly paced, funny, imaginative. . . and still on tomorrow and Sunday at midday, Bedlam Theatre. If you’re around, don’t miss it! For what it counts, a definite five stars from me.
Get your tickets here! (They have a box office at the venue too, but this link will take you to times, prices, map etc. too) – https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/toyland-murders