Puppetry was once something most associated with the high-pitched voices and vacant gazes of a Punch and Judy show at a child’s birthday party. In 2012, however, it seems like the form is enjoying somewhat of a renaissance with the The Muppets taking the box office by storm and now MONSTER/CLOCK: A Play on Time gracing our own Smock Alley Theatre from March 26th.
Not only is the Collapsing Horse production company seeking to breathe new life into the art form, they’re planning on having a lot of fun while doing so. The premise is off the wall, following Toby ‘a castigated monster and apprentice watchmaker, who finds his world blown apart by a raid on his workshop, and the kidnapping of his mentor and guardian.’ Toby is forced to leave the workshop he knows in favour of the ‘steampunk fantasy world’ that makes up the puppet reality. The production promises to be funny, wry and absurd – the best bases for any child-oriented production.
Collapsing Horse itself is comprised of some of Dublin’s best young talents with some interesting backgrounds. The founding fathers are Matt Smyth, Aaron Heffernan, Eoghan Quinn and Jack Gleeson, Trinity students both current and alumni who worked together on various comedic performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Smyth and Heffernan have worked together extensively as part of a sketch trio A Betrayal of Penguins who received rave reviews during last year’s Edinburgh Fringe run. Eoghan Quinn both wrote and performed in the comedy musical Obama Mia! which sold out during the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010 and currently plays in a heavy metal grind core band called Turning Down Sex who are making waves in the Dublin music scene. Meanwhile, Gleeson is perhaps best known for his role as Prince Joffrey in the internationally renowned HBO series Game of Thrones. Gleeson is set to embody the downtrodden Toby during the two week run.
Having each enjoyed plenty of success in other areas it does make you wonder why a puppet show would seem like the next logical step in the career path, but speaking to Matt Smyth it all becomes clear. ‘When we were doing Obama Mia! we were in the pub and talked jokingly about wanting to put on a animal puppet version of Les Misèrables,’ explains Smyth, ‘but we decided that that would be far too hard, and moreover we thought it would be great to write a new and original kids fairytale. Once you start using puppets and music instead of actors it really removes all limits from what you can do.’ This ability to eschew acting norms and escape to the ‘steampunk fantasy world’ of Toby has certainly garnered them a fair amount of both support and anticipation. The initial group of four then turned an entire crew and the project itself was entirely funded through donations on the website fundit.ie.
This method of fundraising is one that we’re sure to see grace our emails and Facebook pages increasingly over the coming years. The website seeks to help people make a request for funding for a variety of projects while offering incentives (such as free show tickets and prizes) to contributors. With a clever promotional video showing Toby loping about the streets of Dublin, rejected and penniless, unable to perform in the Smock Alley Theatre, the voiceover remarks that his four years in acting school in London have been rendered ‘quite redundant’. The company’s initial request for €2,500 worth of funding has been surpassed and with over 91 donations it’s clear that this idea has really captured people’s imaginations. The biggest donators receive two tickets to opening night and an actual puppet, created by the company. The days of fundraising table quizzes and bake sales appear to be a thing of the past, now you can support cultural developments in the community with the click of a mouse and forgo the charity raffle entirely.
The Collapsing Horse company themselves are concentrated on creating performances and shows that are easily transportable and MONSTER/CLOCK was conceived with a strong desire to take it on the road, both around Ireland and the UK. As yet, there are no immediate plans to tour as Collapsing Horse have concentrated their efforts on allowing the initial run in Smock Alley to be as successful as possible. Judging by the level of awareness about the project and its remarkably successful fundraising efforts it seems set to take Smock Alley by storm. MONSTER/CLOCK is seeking to channel the kind of tone and humour that have seen Pixar’s movies become instant favourites. With Eoghan Quinn studying children’s literature and Smyth and Heffernan’s extensive experience writing comedy for the stage it seems that they’ve struck just the right balance to play to both children and adults alike.
So if you’ve got some jaded children on your hands that appear to have lost all sense of wonder or, like us, you’re just incredibly curious about what madness will befall Toby then head down to the Smock Alley Theatre next week. Tickets are €15 or €12 concession and while most performances are at 8pm there are also matinees at 5pm on Friday and 3pm on Saturday. We’re sure Jim Henson is giving this the green light from beyond the grave.
Words: Emily Carson