“Let’s hope their puppets never find peace, because these tortured souls are the stuff of theatre magic.”
Plexus Polaire creates imagery that stamps itself onto the retinas and holds fast in the memory. In Chambre Noire, two life-size puppets wrestle on the ground, Andy Warhol’s disembodied head floats in the air and a spider-woman sporting eight high-heeled limbs contorts in a nightmarish display of sensuality. The puppetry company returns to Jacksons Lane as part of International Mime Festival 2019 and their latest piece of work is as beautiful at it is disturbing.
Valerie Solanas is the writer of SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) Manifesto. After enduring a childhood of abuse and betrayal, she’s angry, fired up and hell bent on eliminating the male sex. Soon she’s being tried for the attempted murder of Andy Warhol. It’s a charge she freely admits, explaining that he had stolen her manuscripts. Now she’s on her deathbed, a crumpled waif, picking over the memories of an unresolved life.
Directed by Yngvild Aspeli and Paola Rizza, Chambre Noire uses puppetry, live music and projections to explore the fascinating, lonely, doomed life of Solanas. A puppet has the starring role in the show: a spindly, worn-faced Solanas. The role of the puppeteer is not only that of manipulator, but of watchful guardian and harbinger of death, as well as a revolving cast of characters.
The puppetry – all operated by Yngvild Aspeli – is impeccable: stylised yet seeming utterly real. You invest in them as you would the hero in an animated film. A flashback to Solanas’ childhood comprises a little girl puppet who clings desperately to her mother, played by an actress who is also her puppeteer. The necessary dependency of the puppets on the humans of the piece echoes the precarious position of Solanas, in need of but ultimately left helpless by so many major players in her biography.
The story unfolds through dialogue and monologues as a dying Solanas rakes up old conversations and brings the past flooding back into the room. The script is spare and poetic. When remembering her time as a prostitute, Solanas tells us she never gives them intimacy, but instead “a black hole in space”. The pacing is masterful, moving between angry, neon-soaked flashbacks to soporific deathbed lullabies.
Percussionist Ane Marthe Sørlien Holen provides a gorgeous soundtrack of drums, xylophone, electronic music and eerie vocals live onstage.
Hypnotic and empathic but above all lavishly visual, Chambre Noire is another showcase of Plexus Polaire’s artistry and compelling aesthetic. Let’s hope their puppets never find peace, because these tortured souls are the stuff of theatre magic.
Reviewed by Laura Foulger