Venue: Underbelly (Cowgate)
Standing out at the Fringe is always a difficult task. However, Bruce is easily one of the most inventive shows being performed this year thanks to the fact that all but one of its characters is played the same yellow sponge. My first reaction to the show’s concept was scepticism. However, talented puppeteers Tim Watts and Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd somehow manage to make a story about a group of sponges utterly absorbing and deliver a wonderfully concise show. Their impressive vocal talents and cleverly choreographed movements mean there’s never any doubt over who the sponge is supposed to be at any one time. Every character is acted with precision from antagonist one-eyed Joe to Bruce’s astrophysicist girlfriend Debbie. Bruce himself is childish and selfish at times but nonetheless a likeable protagonist.
Bruce packs a lot into its one hour running time. During the course of the show, Bruce has a disastrous introduction to the police force, becomes a bestselling author and struggles to deal with impending fatherhood. The show playfully mocks both action and sci-fi films as Bruce finds himself in a dramatic pursuit with one-eyed Joe and is then blasted into outer space. A couple of the show’s jokes might not appeal to everyone – one-eyed Joe’s drastic method of stealing a little girl’s bicycle is likely to offend some people. However, Bruce has the whole audience laughing out loud for the majority of the show.
It’s also storytelling at its very best. The ending is satisfying and neatly ties up every plot strand despite the show having a messy chronology. Music and lights are regularly used to increase the drama but are crucially never relied on as Bruce’s only way of exciting the audience. It sounds ludicrous to think a block of foam could be so expressive but Watts and Nixon-Lloyd’s faultless puppetry skills makes it difficult not to become emotionally invested in show’s characters.
In short, Bruce is a fine example of why puppets aren’t just for children and a rollercoaster of a show that leaves the audience wanting more.