Saturday 9th November 2019 at Leeds Carriageworks Theatre.
In The Hit we meet Hitman Mikey…who happens to be a puppet. There’s undeniably perfect messaging there, nestled snugly between irony and some dark psychology and the show basks in this dynamic very intelligently.
Written and directed by Russell Dean (who also designs and makes the Strangeface puppets, including Mikey), The Hit seeks to delve into the psyche of someone who has spent time detaching the sensitivities of the mind from his actions. The show looks at ‘cognitive dissonance’ and ideas around our sense of identity and autonomy, questioning just how much of what we do is organically down to us.
Mikey is given an earworm by a fellow dealer in scythe work which is exacerbated by a mystery man in a cloud of smoke. Once the can of worms is opened, Mikey can do nothing but wade through his own thoughts and lectures. The craftsmanship of the show does outshine the writing to an extent but there’s some nice dark/physical humour and thought-provoking content to enjoy alongside the impressive puppetry.
Mikey’s a stoic, quirky guy of indeterminate age and arrives complete with pot-belly and a penchant for staying in his underwear – something which creates an incongruously infantile visual while also being entirely fitting when we consider that this is a bloke forced into a cognitive re-birth! Dean’s design makes the static features wonderfully malleable as the expression seems to shift by degrees through lighting and the power of suggestion embedded in the writing. The eyebrow formation alone opens Mikey’s expression up to comic exasperation, cocky egotism, rage or great puzzlements without a single physical change.
Staging is suitably Mikey-centric. Three platforms provide something of a jungle gym for our very active lead to leap about and across, offering us everything from a smoke room to an obscure setting by the water and his special me-time chair. No backdrop, no set pieces, just a little comically timed smoke and clever lighting design. This does mean that the production feels slightly stunted in places as we are given Mikey and his reported tales as the absolute focus but with a short running time of an hour, he proves to be more than enough to keep us entertained.
The puppetry is superb. The precision movement characterised by impressive fluidity and surprising naturalism can do no less than leave us in awe when we consider the hours it must have taken to have our three puppeteers merge so smoothly to bring Mikey to life. Lead Puppeteer Chand Martinez voices Mikey to perfection. He’s pretty joyless and intense but it’s played to a dark comedic tune with an edge of gritty charm. Martinez is joined by the skilful Rhea Locker Marsh and Teele Uustani in puppeteering our fella full of consternation in such style. The pace and nuances in the movement are fantastic – from the natural angles of a resting leg to ‘sub-conscious’ habitual gesturing to perfectly delivered visuals of push ups on invisible bars, this is excellent puppetry work.
This performance was the closing show of the tour so I can’t recommend it, though I would have! Instead, I recommend you join me in keeping a look out for what Strangeface Theatre Company will bring to the stage next. You can find out more information about the company via their website and in this interview with Russell Dean.