The Unity Theatre in Liverpool hosted their first-ever improvisation festival this weekend. In the upstairs space (Unity 2) along with a packed audience a new piece of work from Liverpool company, Wing It – Impro was presented. Talk to the Hand is a combination of puppetry and improvisation and the tone for the work was set from the pre-show with interactions between the performers and audience. However, my eyes were only drawn to the purple puppet perched upon a waist-height platform.
The set-up for this improvised play is simple, the company ask the audience three simple questions. A location, a problem and a character flaw and from this stimulus, the company create a full story. The introduction was led by the calm and assured Mark Smith who listened to the numerous suggestions shouted out by the enthusiastic audience, finally he picked out the play’s location of Atlantis.
Jo the protagonist operated by Alice Rowbottom and Lisa Chae is questioned by the very funny Trev Fleming (the doctor) and from this short interaction, the flesh out the audience’s suggestions and lay out key moments from which we go back and see how events unfold. Laid out on three chairs are the ensemble’s other puppets or I should say puppet parts. These consist of eyeballs, hair, gloves and various costumes. It is from this that the company can switch and change characters with remarkable speed.
With a swift lighting change the company dive under the water bringing to life this tale of love, water, fridges and political machinations. Each puppeteer armed with a torch either light their own or someone else’s puppet, a very simple but effective way of highlighting each character. Aisling Leyne as Claire was very funny with her high falsetto voice, this was matched by Chris Murray the downtrodden would-be suitor. Amongst all of this is Jo the land lubber cast into the depths and ordered to buy a fridge by the would-be villains who wish to profit from the downfall of Atlantis by creating a second ice age. Fleming and Chae create a series of likeable characters who dip in and out of the story of Jo played by the excellent Rowbottom.
Talk to the Hand is great fun, highly skilled and very funny. It had real moments of horror as one character was torn from limb to limb and seeing a set of eyeballs floating to the bottom of the sea will live long in the memory. The work is not something I have seen before, and this makes a refreshing change. It wasn’t flawless as there were moments where the action briefly stalled as puppets were being dressed between scenes, but this is a minor note. I highly recommend that you catch this show if you can. As Smith stated in the introduction this was an experiment and as such it works extremely well. Talk to the Hand is playful puppetry with an improv twist and this marriage of artforms works brilliantly.