“A gut-wrenchingly real portrayal of the complexities of brotherhood and masculinity…
Following its success at the Durham Drama Festival, Puppets takes the stage at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Barney Watts’s Puppets tells the story of two estranged working-class brothers reunited in a tumultuous period of their lives. Through their intrinsic brotherly chemistry, the brothers reconnect as the show progresses, opening up about their hardships while reminiscing on their upbringing.
With constant beats, flow, and conversational tone, Watts’ writing creates a brotherly relationship that is incredibly authentic, captivating and raw, while the show’s episodic structure allows the audience to chart the subtle growing warmth of the brothers’ rekindling relationship. Watts’ masterful writing is brought to life by Alex Davies and Freddie Mitchell, two actors mature beyond their years, whose natural chemistry, cadence, pacing, and intensity create an incredibly realistic representation of the difficulties faced when navigating familial obligation within conflict.
The venue was extremely intimate, with just a small black box space for the two actors to use, though the actors could have been performing on the street and still would have held our attention, as their world-building abilities, aided of course by the script and technical elements, were second to none. A special mention must go to the lighting, sound design, and staging which so clearly showed the passing of time in a way that gave constructive exposition to the beginning of each scene.
Lonny, played by Alex Davies, is a hard-headed, toughened character, battling with loneliness, running his pub alone, while harbouring resentment towards his loose cannon of a brother, Connie, played by Freddie Mitchell, who left him years prior. On the flip side, Freddie portrays Connie as more cheeky and outwardly relaxed, perfectly complimenting and contrasting Davies in a way that created natural moments of comedy. Both ingeniously guard their interior, allowing them to soften in their respective ways: Lonny towards letting his brother back into his life and Connie by opening up about his heartbreaking home life. It is clear that both have untapped emotions that only the other is capable of extracting, one of many facets of performance that showcase this inescapable sibling bond that reunites the brothers.
The volatility of the brother’s relationship becomes quickly apparent as the dialogue vacillates between heated arguments and stony silences. Both actors command the stage with ease and hold their own with remarkable maturity, creating a host of uncomfortably intrusive silences that pervade the texture of the dialogue, slowly dissipating as the brothers refamiliarise themselves with each other. Though the interchange between the brothers is initially extremely tense, a quick-paced dynamic is established and maintained throughout, preventing the show from dragging, with a consistent ‘tongue and cheek’ wit established as common ground between the two, undercutting the uncomfortable tension created at the start of the show. The show reaches a climax in a powerfully heated argument that comes to a head when Lonny reveals a terrible truth about his girlfriend. Davies’s graphic, intense response perfectly frames the raw brotherly love the two characters work so hard to rekindle during the show. The altercation culminates in a physical brawl, a juvenile gesture that sees the brothers re-engage with their youthful chemistry, rounding off their arcs with a beautifully self-aware comment on how harmful the shame and silence bestowed upon male domestic violence victims can be. The show ends with a poignant cyclicality: Davies alone on stage once more, accompanied by the soulful tones of Etta James’s “Sunday Kind of Love”. Having come head to head with his brother after their three-and-a-half-year estrangement, this song, which yearns for a consistent, loving relationship that lasts beyond fleeting infatuation, is a reflective reminder for Lonny that he is looking for the same from his brother.
A gripping two-hander that leaves the audience in a captivated silence, Puppets is a gut-wrenchingly real portrayal of the complexities of brotherhood and masculinity. Puppets reminds its audiences of the hardships and blessings that come with familial obligations. With some of the best amateur writing and performances I’ve seen this Fringe, Puppets is a must-watch for those visiting the festival this year!
Puppets will continue its Edinburgh Fringe run at Venue 29, Paradise in The Vault – The Annexe at 20:45 from the 17-19th of August.
By Emily Phillips