Review: Push and Citizen Puppet by final year students at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

There isn’t much to link these two pieces, other than that they are showcases for students graduating from Central. Push, directed by Catherine Alexander and Grainne Byrne is a devised piece based on the novel of the same name by Sapphire. Citizen Puppet is also devised, in collaboration with acclaimed puppet company Blind Summit, and is a whimsical piece of (allegedly) verbatim theatre centring around the events of a well-known fairy-tale.

Push is a grim tale, as anyone who has seen the film Precious will know. The production’s approach was somewhat Brechtian, with the ensemble informing us at the outset that they would often be playing against gender and colour (as well as, obviously, age) and giving us a glimpse of some of the main characters. There were some outstanding performances, especially Jack Randall as Precious’ fellow-student Consuela and Emma Hanson as her mother, Mary, who demonstrated immense vocal skill and physical talent, despite performing the majority of her scenes with only the back of her head visible.

However, the story was somewhat muddled in the telling, with an over-reliance on film projection which added to the confusion, and the digression into the back-stories of some of the other characters, while serving the purpose of giving each student a showcase, detracted from the main story. Overall, the production failed to draw the audience into empathising with the central character, and the inclusion of upbeat musical numbers also jarred with the subject-matter. There was much about it to like, but as a whole it didn’t quite gel.

Citizen Puppet was the diametric opposite, concerning a group of characters who live in the same village as the infamous Jack (of Beanstalk fame), and the effect on the village of sudden wealth, generated by the influx of golden eggs into the local economy. The puppets were superbly made and well-animated by the students, with special mention going to the two students animating Detective Inspector Clive, whose hand gestures and physical tics were hilariously detailed and lifelike.

The format of the production showed a lot of promise, with contemporary parallels being drawn to the role of the banks in the current economic crisis. However, it failed to deliver, with the show stopping suddenly after half an hour with a simple ”to be continued …”, which made it feel as though the students had simply run out of time.

It was an interesting evening: this year’s graduating students show a lot of talent and skill, and I am confident that many of them will do well as they join the ranks of Britain’s professional performers. Whether or not their futures lie in devising, though, remains to be seen …

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