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Hilarious parody of puppet theatre without the puppets is skilfully performed

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THE CARDINALS

Roundhouse Studio Theatre, Chalk Farm Road, NW1

Five stars

Three cardinals, in full scarlet dress and hats, and a Muslim woman in well-cut jeans, sweater and hijab, have devised an evangelical puppet show which tells the story of the world, from the Creation to the contemporary situation in the Middle East.

But there are no puppets. And no audible words either. So what kind of theatre is this? It is bizarre and ingenious; hilarious and profound; funny and thoughtful. And skillfully performed – without any of the self-indulgence so often associated with devised productions.

This play is Stan’s Café Theatre’s contribution to the 2013 London International Mime Festival.

The set, ingeniously designed by Miguel Angel Bravo, represents both a puppet theatre and the wings, where props, ladders, scenery, costumes, etc – all the stuff that normally the audience cannot see – are heaped in apparent confusion.

The actors (Gerard Bell, Rochi Rampal, Graeme Rose, Craig Stephens), when they are not performing onstage as ludicrously oversized puppets, work as stage crew.

They thrust the scenery and props (made and collected in an appropriate variety of styles and sizes by Harry Trow) in and out of the theatre, racing from side to side of it, tripping on their long coats (the hats are soon abandoned), manipulating expanses of fabric, arguing and bumping into each other, donning and doffing minimal bits of costumes and somehow moving the show along in a hilarious parody of contemporary puppet performances.

The funniest moment for me was when large, ungainly feet and legs came through the top of the theatre and walked unsteadily on a wobbling piece of blue fabric to represent Christ walking on water.

The second act is just as funny and clever as the first, but the laughter begins to die away as the Crusades, the Inquisition, and especially the current situation in Israel/Palestine are caricatured with wooden swords, cardboard tanks and fabric blood. For all its merriment, this play forces its audiences to think of issues too deep for laughter.

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