Preview: Puppet Grinder Cabaret

By Londonist Last edited 103 months ago
Preview: Puppet Grinder Cabaret

limbardo_oli_matt-Gianluca-De-Girolamo.jpg The shapes thrown by the dancing milkshake straw were truly impressive. It glided, it soared, it did back flips and it did high kicks. In fact, its moves were nothing short of majestic. We knew that straws were flexible and fun - a drink with a straw is a drink with character - but had no idea an audience could be gripped by one as it danced across a blacked out stage, masterfully worked by a circus master and a couple of chop sticks.

The Puppet Grinder Cabaret returns to the charming Little Angel Theatre tonight and tomorrow after a trip up to Edinburgh. The London adult puppet scene is thriving, audiences love it and Oli - Oliver Smart, the brains and the brawn behind the dancing milkshake straw - says the art form has a high profile in theatre, opera and film at the moment.

This Londonista has been taking puppetry classes at the Little Angel this year. It’s the tiniest theatre ever, but is wrapped in a storybook kind of magic. When you’re waiting outside for the doors to open, you can peer through a dusty window into the puppet makers’ workshop that is full of many magical creatures, suspended in the half gloom. Lessons take place in a nearby church hall and cover everything from shadow puppetry to working with found objects.

Oli specialises in making puppet magic with discarded things he’s found. The Suitcase Circus, a collaboration between Oli and his friend Matt, is a joy to behold, where objects you always thought you knew and understood like gloves and teapots find new life as moody and eccentric cabaret stars.

We’ve been to a couple of past Puppet Grinder Cabarets and they’ve been brilliant. If you don’t have plans already we’d definitely recommend trying this out. The line up this weekend includes Magdalena the Mysterious and Shitty Deal Puppet Theatre as well as Suitcase Circus, plus films from Sarah Wright, Bjorn Verloh and Henning Thomas. Go and witness the milkshake straw in glorious action for yourself!

By Helen Babbs

Puppet Grinder Cabaret is at the Little Angel Theatre, 14 Dagmar Passage, N1 2DN (off Essex Road) Friday 11 & Saturday 12 September at 8pm

Last Updated 11 September 2009


I went to the Little Angel Theatre for the first time on Saturday 12th of September 2009. This is a lovely theatre with good sight lines and a great atmosphere. I saw the Puppet Grinder Cabaret. This consisted of a likable and funny compere, Dave Gibson, who comes from Preston. I still have no idea where Preston is but I do know now that it has the second largest bus garage in Europe (the largest is in London) so I learnt something. The ticket cost £12.50 (no concession for Equity members-why not?) The evening started about 15 minutes late with no explanation and there was about a 15 minute interval so it lasted about one and a half hours.
The first act was Magdalena the Mysterious. This was "interesting" in that I have never seen a human marionette before. It was reasonably amusing when she belly danced but I would have liked to have heard more amusing patter so out of five only one.
As well as live performances there were short films. These tended to be quite “arty”, although they all had merit, but one called “Worm Song” by Matilda Tristram really stood out. Simple yet amusing and it certainly kept the audiences attention.
The next live act was Shi**y Deal Puppet Theatre. This went on too long and was not funny. It looked as though it had been thrown together in a huge rush and was very amateurish. However, its use of found articles, dolls etc, and paper planes that represented the Battle of Britain was interesting. Two out of five.
The final act was called Suitcase Circus and this consisted of a talented musician Matt Short, who played a variety of instruments and an equally talented puppeteer from New Zealand Oliver Smart. This was excellent and this duo is certainly going to go places. The puppet transvestite kettle is a wonderful set piece. Without giving anything away a frog puppet was killed and the shock felt by the audience was very real. Top marks for this one-five out of five.
Now for £10.50 you could go to the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly and watch “The 39 Steps”. You would see shadow puppets and watch a truly great show with top actors and crew (I have no connection with this production). So with many of the top shows in the West End accessible to those watching their budgets theatrical standards in all mediums are being forced to rise. Cabaret has been on the back burner for so long that its resurgence is still in its infancy and it does need to be nurtured. If supported, it will become stronger and then will represent good value for money. Artists need time to run and polish their acts; everyone has to start somewhere so it is important to encourage the growth of this vital area by purchasing tickets and giving an honest appraisal of what you have seen. The Puppet Grinder Cabaret is one of the seeds that given time and encouragement can grow to occupy a valuable space in todays performing arts.