#1 - The Ageing Puppeteer
Maria Kunda on Three Screens from in Memory of Johnny B. Goode: World Tour (2014 – 2017)
The Ghosts of Nothing featuring Laura Purcell
SCENE: Pierrot waltzes in the moonlight, his arms encircling nothing and nobody, while he imagines Columbine as his invisible partner.
This is Pierrot Lunaire, mesmerised by the Moon and sweetly enveloped in his unrequited passion. My direction is to show him as an incurable romantic and for the puppet to glide, with overt reference to the lithe acrobats and lucid mimes who have inhabited his character for centuries.
My hands were agile when I first lent my will to Pierrot. During the moonlit waltz scene, with a deft tweak I would tilt the main upright which controls the head and body and, with fine nuance, Pierrot would cock his head, just so, which gave his gesture a rising, pensive inflection. He showed some optimism then, ducking his head to the Moon as though shyly winking at her.
Tonight, my wrists are complaining. The puppet feels heavier by the season. Tonight, Pierrot does not comport himself with the languor of a sensitive swain but moves with the exaggerated, deliberate, over-dignified purpose of a much-practiced middle-aged inebriate. He is not melancholic; simply paralytic. Every so often my inflamed fingers fumble, and Pierrot misses a beat or drags his foot.
Pierrot is no longer plucky, quaint or funny. My swollen hands make his movements stiffer, and each action drags a millisecond behind the beat, which makes him appear calculating rather than innocent. I have never believed it was really Columbine to whom Pierrot offered his heart, so it was always towards the Moon that I directed his most sensitive of gestures. But now Pierrot increasingly seems to want to evade her or berate her. I feel that he has a quarrel with her and has become treacherous.
Each time I falter, the split-second difference to the tilt of Pierrot’s head produces a different unpredictable negative attitude. Now, he seems petulant and self-indulgent. When the first strains of the waltz play, his body does not swoon; instead, he shrugs huffily, trips, and kicks the ground angrily. Instead of gazing at her enraptured, at the first sight of the Moon Pierrot jerks his head, and winces in pain.
He has done worse.
At the conclusion of a particularly shocking performance, for the first time in my professional years I snagged the wires. Thanks to the alert technician, the lights came down quite quickly, but nonetheless caught Pierrot’s closing pose: head thrown back violently in anguish, hideously baying at the Moon. And, as I tried in vain to wrest the wires apart as the light dimmed, Pierrot finally shuddered in the attitude of a werewolf. The lighting man smiled in conspiratorial confusion at Pierrot’s convulsions, and the audience’s applause was a second or two delayed.
We get away with it. I am a master. As well as rusty wires and stiffened limbs, the yellowed varnish of his face lends the puppet the liverish aspect of Scaramuccia. The highest achievement for a marionettist is success in letting the marionette move on its own. And I have accomplished that. In my hands the Moon’s inamorato has come of age.
Three Scenes from In Memory of Johnny B. Goode World Tour (2014 – 2017) was presented in partnership with Mona Foma 2018
JOURNAL is edited by CAT Engagement Co-ordinator, Lisa Campbell-Smith. The project commissions writers to create new text-based works that engage with the CAT exhibition program. The platform provides an opportunity for writers to develop work outside the structures of critique and criticism prevalent in art writing.