Puppetry and mime are similarly unique mediums of performance on several levels, both employing the physical gestures of the performer to describe their scenarios. By contrast, the vehicles of expression they employ are quite different; with puppetry employing physical character avatars and voice talent, and mime relying solely upon mute imitation of a scene.
It is then surprising to see a performance that employs techniques from both mediums to create a funny and poignant experience. BRUCE is a two-man, one-puppet show produced and performed by Tim Watts and Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd. Watts provides puppetry and character voices, while Nixon-Lloyd performs the mimic gestures and also voices some of the characters, with the occasional addition of simple yet imaginative props.
The titular character, Bruce, is as simple a puppet as one could imagine. A battered, yellow sponge face, and simple white gloves. It is a testament to the combination of the pair's talents that it nevertheless capably describes the titular anti-heroic protagonist and colourful supporting characters – like Joe, the one-eyed Russian disgraced astronaut bent on revenge upon Bruce, or Debbie, the hilariously falsetto-voiced astrophysicist and object of Bruce's affection.
The narrative follows the hapless Bruce as he staggers from one hilarious mishap to another, struggling to rectify the disappointments and disasters of his life through liberal applications of Interstellar-esque time travel. It's a tale of surprising emotional depth complemented by the charm of the puppet's portrayal. Without wanting to reveal too much, the non-sequential, episodic scenes eventually coalesce into a sophisticated narrative that deals with deep adult themes like romance, personal loss, substance abuse and redemption.
The two performers explained to us after the show that this aspect was born out of their desire to create a longer, more involved performance than the short comedy sketches the Bruce puppet first appeared in.
Bruce retains the humour from its origins, with deft send ups of cult movie tropes and snappy physical humour. It is through this comedy that the mix of Watts's puppetry and Nixon-Lloyd's miming truly excels; the timings of expression, voice and gesture combine to ensure that every punchline hits home. Props and sound design also support the comedic value of the show, with a particular prop during the sad romantic song reducing the audience to hysterical tears. Even the more affecting portions of the show are inevitably broken up by the comedy.
One of the most interesting portions occurred after the show had completed, when Nixon-Lloyd took us through the set up of the show. As the show's employ of puppets, mime and unique lighting and sound support requires impeccable timing, the performers developed their own collection of various technologies run out of a suitcase, even going to the length to program their own lighting sequences in their custom lamps. It's a thoroughly impressive to see within a Fringe show.
Bruce is a rare gem of comedy and humanity, and a demonstration of the incredibly diverse talents of its performers. It's a non-stop barrage of feels, gags and messing with the space-time continuum. Its simple exterior and mediums belie a thoroughly complex and engaging experience well worth the visit.
Bruce runs twice daily until February 21st at The Menagerie.