Produced by RUNTcollective, I saw Putnam and Joy at The Bierkeller Theatre in Bristol. It is a puppetry exploration for a group of artists and performers based in Bristol. Of the 6 actors, it was impressive to discover that only 4 had previous experience of working with puppets.
The puppets in question are a twist on the well-known Punch and Judy, with the central characters – Putnam and Joy, being a couple with severe marital problems. The writer, Johnathan Fairbank builds a world around the relationship which is dark, haunting and reminiscent (at least to me) of the world Brecht created for Mother Courage and Her Children. Ever at war, a town savaged by an army passing through, pushed further to the brink by a second army pursuing the first.
The other characters all seem like ghosts, transient figures who have appeared in their lives for the purpose of the play. The Doctor, Polly a gypsy girl and fortune-teller, Jack Ketch an executioner and finally The Skeleton who represents death.
This play and performance overall worked well, I was able to enjoy the story and see the puppets come to life. The strained relationship between Putnam and Joy seemed very real, despite the twisted fairy tale world they live in. Putnam is a lazy good for nothing lay about who has cheated on Joy, Joy does everything for him. Constantly trying to relieve him of the blame he deserves and ready with his excuses. For some reason she loves him, and there is some tenderness in their absurd relationship.
A few points to note, the attention to detail in the creation of the puppets was beautiful. Each quite different, and each bringing a new grotesque level to the play. My particular favourite was Jack Ketch. What I struggled with however was the mismatched black clothing worn by the puppeteers. I think a more uniform approach to their ‘blacks’ would have been less distracting.
For more information on RUNTcollective visit their website.