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Puffball – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Director: Mark Storor

Music: Jules Maxwell

Reviewer: Stephen M Hornby

Puffball opens with a bizarre stage picture. One man lies face down with flour dropping down steadily on to him from above. A woman stands in a child’s bath and empties a metal box of water over herself. A man cocooned in a plastic womb hung from a trapeze goes through a bloody birth and stumbles into life. All of these images are differently memorable and set the tone for a series of imaginative set pieces but they are visually more striking than they are emotionally engaging.

Mark Storor has worked with a series of young people who identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning) over the course of a year from across a number of town and cities in the UK. He has explored their experiences of their gender and sexuality and then created a show which is a mixture of circus performances and storytelling. The LGBTQ stories we hear are not ones of happy, adjusted, accepted young people, quite the opposite. A man lists the places where he has had sex with anonymous men in search of a connection that he has only found fleetingly. A trans young person screams abuse at the parents who rejected her. Another young man talks about falling in love again and again and again with a list of men and locations that cover most countries in the UK. The accounts are a moving reminder of the specific issues some LGBTQ people face growing up and of the more general connection they have into the universal human project of the search for love. It does seem notable, however, by it absence that there were no tales of joy or contentment or family acceptance and growth, which are equally the experience of some LGBTQ young people.

The circus elements of the show are a great success, turning trapeze into act of love making presented the perfect metaphor for incredible dependent closeness, risk and real danger of injury. A brilliant sequence with a trampoline sees an illuminated figure trapped within it wheeled around the space and then unwrapped to be ignored by the trampolinist whose attention is focussed on another man. As the trampolinist jumps higher and higher to impress his would-be-lover the man on the floor risks being crushed and darts from space to space under the trampoline, finally lapping up a few drops of water that have fallen to the floor from the trampolinist’s mouth. This is a wonderful allegory for unrequited love. Not all the images work as well in terms of generating meaning and the relationship between the few elements of spoken word and the circus performance or staged elements that follow is often oblique or absent. There are a couple of recognisable characters who go on a journey in the performance, but much of action appears to be somewhat random with little narrative or character cohesion. While the circus elements were beautifully performed, once the show is in a theatre space, expectations of character, meaning and exposition are generated and it is here that the show is weakest.

The circus elements at times necessitate some painfully long scene changes that drag the pace of the show down. Members of the cast appear on stage repeatedly to sweep and clear up from the previous scene. This invites the introduction of ritual elements which could make it a meaningful part of the show and connect it with the main performance, rather than being a perfunctory but often lengthy aside.

Puffball is a great experiment in pushing genres together and creates some arresting images of love, intimacy and longing. It is a sometimes rambling show with digressions that aren’t made for any clear reason, but the views along the way are often spectacular.

Runs until Monday 9th June

Director: Mark Storor Music: Jules Maxwell Reviewer: Stephen M Hornby Puffball opens with a bizarre stage picture. One man lies face down with flour dropping down steadily on to him from above. A woman stands in a child’s bath and empties a metal box of water over herself. A man cocooned in a plastic womb hung from a trapeze goes through a bloody birth and stumbles into life. All of these images are differently memorable and set the tone for a series of imaginative set pieces but they are visually more striking than they are emotionally engaging. Mark Storor has…

Review Overview

The Public Reviews Score

A great experiement

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