Home » London Theatre Reviews » The Sex Lives of Puppets at Southwark Playhouse | Review

The Sex Lives of Puppets at Southwark Playhouse | Review

Spoiler alert: there are pants-down demonstrations – plural – in this broad exploration of activity under the sheets. I wondered if this would be a show that gave puppets personalities of their own, exploring what happens when their owners are out of the house for the day. But perhaps some owners are barely out for the day in these days of hybrid working, with some jobs even being done almost entirely from the comfort of home. The show doesn’t do that, and it’s not a show about sexual workers, either, choosing instead to focus on a number of ‘interviews’ (inverted commas mine as there are no interviewers) where people are given free rein – in more ways than one – to discuss their thoughts on intercourse.

The Sex Life of Puppets
The Sex Life of Puppets: Isobel Griffiths, Mark Down, Simon Scardifeld and Dale Wylde. Photographer credit Nigel Bewley.

Each of the interviewees is named, though not in the relatively sparse amount of information available on the venue’s website (there were no programmes available), so I’ll keep faith with the production and not list them here. In a no-strings-attached – so to speak – environment, a wide cross-section of people are voiced by a group of four actors and puppeteers. Somebody somewhere will doubtless point out that the actors’ lips are clearly moving as they are speaking and giving voice to their puppet characters, but the production never claimed there would be ventriloquism.

To facilitate swift scene changes – not that there’s a huge amount of sex – sorry, set – to speak of – puppets and other props are kept on both far sides of the stage, with the puppetry taking place on a table. The dialogue veered from the ridiculous to the (somewhat) sublime, and back again, in one scene defining sexual health as being healthy and having sex (or something like that) and in another, discussing the language and vocabulary of love, with a woman preferring her partner to express his love with subtlety and sophistication.

Some of the short scenes could have been developed into a full-length play in their own right, such as a couple of older men, residents of a care home, who have found to their surprise that there is more (consensual, always consensual) sex than there is bingo and backgammon. One has only discovered his homosexuality in later life, the other has been gay for decades. He would have known what it was like prior to the Sexual Offences Act 1967, when homosexual activity was a criminal offence, and could have, given sufficient time, have provided a perspective on that. On the other hand, a younger lesbian couple could have had their story progress beyond the relatively short timeframe of their relationship to date, right up until they found themselves in care homes.

As it is, the show provides a good overview of different situations, socially and economically, showing how various people cope, or indeed thrive, or indeed struggle. It hardly takes a genius to work out that what works for one sexually active couple doesn’t necessarily work for another. One of the more enlightening as well as amusing moments came along when a woman managed to convince her partner that they need not go all the way every single time, which was liberating for them both, discovering sexual freedom of sorts.

Each of the two halves climaxes (sorry not sorry) with a non-verbal display of puppetry, the first more refined than the second. The second, well, needs to be seen to be believed. Overall, the show is, predominantly, light entertainment: while there are moments of profundity, don’t go expecting a wholesome and entirely meaningful evening. Frankly, the production could do without the ‘avant-garde theatre monologue’ but everything else held my attention sufficiently. The London stage hasn’t seen puppetry as graphic as this since the days of Avenue Q and the musical number ‘You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love)’. Wild and wacky, this show is not for the fainthearted.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

The Sex Life of Puppets is a multi-layered piece of theatre. On the surface, offering a fun and frank exploration of puppet desire at the hands of their Dionysian puppet masters, and on a deeper level engaging skilled puppetry to express human moods, fears, worries, hang-ups and desires that will immediately resonate with its audience.

Creative:
Co-writers/ directors: Mark Down and Ben Keaton
Assistant Director: Charlina Lucas
Puppets: Russell Dean and Blind Summit
Lights: James Mckenzie
Producer: Lucy Godfrey
NATSAL Adviser: Professor Chris Bonell

BLIND SUMMIT PRESENTS
THE SEX LIVES OF PUPPETS
BY MARK DOWN & BEN KEATON
4 – 13 JAN 2024
https://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

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