DramaPuppetryReviewSouth West

Grandad and the Machine – Venue: Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter

Writer: Jack Dean
Director: Polly Agg-Manning
Reviewer: Becca Savory Fuller

Like a great clattering, thundering steam train, Jack Dean’s storytelling sweeps into the theatre and pulls you up on board.  Dean wants to take you to a world that’s strange yet familiar – dystopian, yet home.  But this is storytelling for the YouTube generation, there’s no time for Once Upon a Time.

Dean is a free-tuning radio, shifting between voices, characters, jingles and adverts with a pace and energy that’s infectious.  The shipping forecast slides us down into the depths of this new world.  News bulletin broadcasts are interrupted by the jazz swing sounds of a reimagined Wu Tang Clan.  Musician Josh Lucas deftly supports the performance with a non-stop live score performed on loop pedals, guitars, voice and more – augmented with a brief cameo as ‘Sir’ Edward Sheeran.

We meet eight-year-old Imogen, top of the class and a robotics enthusiast, in a Steam-Punk Albion where women have not won the vote or the right to higher education.  Her wide-eyed questioning of the world as she sees it is a charming counter-point to her gruff father Michael, who’s schooled on an “‘Ear all, see all, say nowt”, approach to life.

But the clattering cobbled streets of smoke-filled London are about to be disrupted.  An Iron Man has emerged from the English Channel, a ‘Leviathan’ abandoned at sea after the years of the Great War, and he’s heading straight for the city.

With a lyrical, finely tuned script, and the freewheeling energy of a fast-paced action thriller, Jack Dean achieves in an empty space what Hollywood blockbusters spend multi-millions to imagine.  A particular highlight is one ‘Godzilla’ moment, the Metal Man looming over a remixed version of the London Eye, expertly visualised with a few simple props and lights.  The twisting turns of Imogen and Michael’s flight from London to find her Grandad Albert keeps us gripped.

The staging is simple but carefully considered, with design by Sophie Mosberger.  The centrepiece is a circular moon-like projection, suspended in the darkness and used to great effect to add atmosphere and to mark the chapters of Dean’s tale.  Props are used sparingly, at times just suggested in the white silhouette of an object, cut from the same cloth as the drapes that frame the stage.  Others, such as the puppet girl used to imagine Imogen, are crafted with detail and care.

Grandad and the Machine is a spirited fairytale for grownups, filled with the humour and detail of an artist who sees the world both as it is, and as it could be.  Catch it while you can, Jack Dean is definitely one to watch.

Runs until: 18 February 2017 | Image: Contributed


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