Last Friday night, I was delighted to attend three consecutive shows at the Manipulate puppetry festival, hosted at the Traverse Theatre.
The second piece of the evening was Colette Garrigan’s dynamic monologue Sleeping Beauty, which takes us to the ‘Kingdom of Liverpool’. Garrigan watches her audience arrive with a knowing, gently amused look, welcoming us to her performance space. She paces the stage, navigating a long table and surrounding domestic objects with which she will create a shadow(puppet)y world of pain, hope, humour, and ultimately tragedy.
This interpretation ofSleeping Beauty’s tale features a Liverpudlian girl born into an overflowing, poverty-stricken household where despite their mother’s love, deprivation forces the seven siblings to live apart when their father abandons his family. Our princess protagonist, the youngest, is sent to live with her abusive, taunting grandmother. We follow the struggles of her child- and girl-hood as she navigates, school, loneliness, petty crime and the inevitable police-car ride home, boys, and poverty. Through the eyes and words of a young girl, this world is at once inescapable and unfathomable. There is little sense of a world beyond this.
As its title suggests, the piece is steered by tropes of fairytale. The cruel grandmother is the witch whose ‘curse’ anticipates the tragic ending. Prince ‘Charming’ is a manipulative boyfriend, Paul Hodge, who, in the suburban semidetached ‘palace’ brings momentary joy to our princess’ troubled youth. Her late father is the King of her fallen Kingdom and her rarely-seen but ever-revered mother, the Queen.
Garrigan fills the stage with her warmth, gravity, and humour. Her ingenious use of domestic objects to create shadow-scapes drives the plot and creates a sense of playful spontaneity, which is fitting for such a youthful tale. A toast rack cast in enormous shadow creates the arched entrance to a grand department store, before later becoming a hand bag. Her six siblings are comically presented as Barbie dolls wedged into a tub, tragically naked because their school uniforms are being washed. One particular puppetry gem occurs as a floor lamp is turned to reveal a tiny puppet Hodge family watching football in the lampshade. Hilariously, as Garrigan wraps her legs around the lamp itself, it becomes prince Paul.
Other than bringing something of a poetic quality, the snippets of Garrigan’s inherited French seemed incongruous and I felt added little to her Liverpudlian tale. As our princess grows older, she becomes increasingly curious and desperate for affection and guidance, yet is unequipped to deal with heartbreak and deception. The concluding sequences of the play follow her to a seedy party in a damp apartment block where instead of a spindle, this princess is pricked by a dirty needle.
The play ends a slightly too abruptly and unsatisfyingly. We leave our beauty hospitalised and comatose. Garrigan offers us a ‘happily ever after’ but challenges us not to believe it: can fairytales exits in such circumstances? Despite this, the piece has remained with me. With innovative and captivating stagecraft, Garrigan has successfully transformed Sleeping Beauty into a poignant and poetic comment on poverty and youth.
PHOTO: Traverse Theatre