Puppet Up! Uncensored

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

Puppets are no longer cute. We know that from Crank Yankers, from Ireland’s Podge and Rodge, from ‘adult’ vent acts, from spoof internet videos of Elmo and Kermit doing things they would never get away with in Sesame Street.

Well, Puppet Up is one way in which the creators of those very Muppets have responded, employing their foam-filled friends for a night of improv comedy, featuring plenty of distinctly post-watershed language. This show is brought to you by the letter F.

Watching it is definitely an odd experience. The improvisers work the puppets above their heads, playing out a scene that’s broadcast on giant screens that flank the stage. But the puppeteers are also in full view of the audience, so you can watch them at work, if you prefer. There’s certainly a lot to take in, but that’s nothing compared to the many things the large team of performers – who include the late Jim Henson’s son Brian – have to keep their minds on.

They are a supremely talented bunch, simultaneously voicing and working the puppets, improvising a scene, inhabiting their character and watching their own monitor screens to ensure the shot looks perfect.

The improv they do is, like the vast majority of the genre, little changed from the Whose Line Is It Anyway? games of two decades ago, but the addition of puppets certainly adds an entertaining new dimension. When a scene is played out by junkie rabbits, cantankerous crabs, fretful hot dogs or alien stand-ups, it’s safe to predict it’s something you’ve probably not seen before.

The puppets also mean the improv is also done as various cartoon-like characters, with the ‘disguise’ of the puppets, allowing the improvisers to adopt personas that would ill-suit their real appearance.

Being the Jim Henson Workshop, this is also a big-budget production number, full of slick pizzazz and skilful showmanship, which only adds to the sense of occasion. On one side of the stage, the improvisers sit in directors’ chairs with their names on the back, on the other the amiable MC sits in fronts of racks of fur, foam, latex that come randomly to life. This zestful spirit includes trying to get everyone to yell ‘puppet up!’ at the start of each scene, which is met with limited success. This is, after all, Australia, not Hollywood.

The show does flag towards the end of its 90-minute running time, and, like many improv games, a few scenes do flounder. But overall it’s breezy, unchallenging fun, expertly performed – and you can’t fail to be awed by the talent of those being so vigorously put through their paces on stage. You’d be a muppet to miss it.

Reviewed by:Steve Bennett
Melbourne, April 2007

Review date: 7 Apr 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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