There were moments of true hilarity and amazement as we watched a mélange of household items take battle against the relentless march of sleek Nordic surfaces.
The men and women of “Men of Steel” must have balls of steel and stamina to match to endure this physical riot of an evening, as they breath miraculous life into the most mundane of discarded household items. Before this show, I could never imagine feeling teary over the “death” of an old comfy chair, nor horror at the sight of a broken top loader washing machine being flogged and strung up by a chest of drawers.
“Don’t tell anyone about the nasty white cupboard because they’ll have nightmares,” said my almost five-year-old daughter Sophie, who clung to my arm in joyful terror for most of the one hour show. I am not quite sure if this is an adult show for children, or a children’s show for adults, but suffice to say everyone (especially my daughter) had a good time.
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I could easily wank on about some of the deeper themes of the night, old versus new, light versus dark, sustainability versus consumerism and the endless march of soulless companies like IKEA towards world furniture domination. This is a more like dance and performance art than theatre, and the subtle possibilities revealed by the Men of Steel puppeteers wielding objects are large as a full-sized wardrobe, were impressive.
The story: a pile of unloved old furniture destined for the tip takes the battle to its evil replacement manifest in a cupboard clad in the svelte white lines of Swedish furniture minimalism. One of the creators of the show, Sam Routledge says “object puppeteers” animate everyday objects as they are “without eyes or other recognisable facial features”. It’s an approach that works better with some things than others; illuminated jellyfish lampshades float into the audience and land on unsuspecting heads, a giant transformer-like creature made up of two recliners lumbers into battle cleverly across the stage.
My favourite puppet was the comfy chair from the 1960s, a grand old dear with attitude and a walking stick. She comes to an explosive end. And despite having a visceral reaction to the IKEA store in Richmond, I also liked the portrayal of cold Nordic sleekness. As the show progressed, I experienced a growing sense of schadenfreude, especially at the cataclysmic end.
It may not be nice for the Swedes, but the fantastic and satisfying finale is still making me smile hours later.
The usher at the Beckett Theatre very kindly provided a large cushion for my tiny daughter to sit on, which she needed, for even though we were seated four rows from the front much of the action takes place on the floor and is quite difficult to see. Despite that physical encumbrance, Ian Pidd’s direction and Jared Lewis’ sound and technical design deserve praise, and Men of Steel’s unique take on puppetry is invigorating and one to look out for.
The details: Hard Rubbish plays the Malthouse’s Beckett Theatre until October 6. Tickets on the company website.