The Blue Pool of Questions – The Puppet Theatre Barge, London

Reviewer: Adam Stevenson

Writers: Maya Abu-Alhayyat and Yara Bamieh

Creators: Osama Al Azza and Stan Middleton

The Blue Pool of Questions takes its audience to a grey town, where everything has its place and the population is represented by an angry, shouting man and a crying woman. Enter Azraq, a stranger with blue hair whose stories corrupt the town’s youth and whose questions flood the streets and houses.

Performed in an Aladdin’s cave-like space in the bow of a barge, Azraq and his fellow citizens are puppets controlled by Emily Dyble, Stan Middleton and Jessica Sheard. Unlike the company’s usual marionettes, these puppets are table-top puppets, manoeuvered using rods, either from below the puppet or from behind it, with the puppeteer made invisible by lighting.

Despite their inflexible faces, the puppets’ movement gives them a range of expressions that emphasises the character built into their look. The anthropomorphic question marks are a particular delight, teasing the town’s noisy dog and performing a Busby Berkley number when they begin to submerge the city. At one point, Azraq dives into this sea. The puppetry of his swimming is entrancing as he plays with question words in English and Arabic before making friends with a sinuous diamanté encrusted eel, which moves in question mark shapes.

During the story, Azraq meets a little girl called Maya and tells her a story about a strange being called Pilf, who turns the world on its head once a year. This story is dramatised through shadow puppets lit in an Iris of light. The puppets themselves have gleaming colours and the antics of Pilf and his rabbit friends, whether flying, standing-on their heads or dancing with smiling carrots, are smooth and fluid, like a picture book that moves.

It’s not only a visual show though; there’s a lilting score played on the oud by Kareem Samara which complements the otherworldly images on display. Although some of the puppets speak, most of the story is narrated by Osama Al Azza, whose sparkly-eyed earnestness could have carried the show by itself.

Adapted from children’s stories by Palestinian novelists, Maya Abu-Alhayyat and Yara Bamieh, the narrative is a little too obtuse for the very young. Instead this is a show better suited to older primary school children, who may wonder at the visuals, try to decipher the performance mechanics and follow the dreamy and slightly drifting narrative. It’s also suitable for any adult who wishes to spend a charming hour outside the world and inside a storybook.

Runs until 7 May 2023

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An Enchanting Escape

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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