The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak - Theatre Review

Described as a "monstrous chamber opera for puppets". The Deprived Appetite of Tarrare the Freak is a dark and beautiful production, performed as part of the Bristol Festival of Puppetry. Tarrare tells the real-life story of Circus Freak-turned-spy, Tarrare and his tragically insatiable appetite.

The complex, yet understated score is masterfully composed by Tom Poster for piano and violin, guiding us through the shifting tempos and macabre circumstances through which Tarrare falls accustomed. The hollow-eyed, anguish ridden puppets designed by the company (Wattle & Daub) and Emma Powell are performed masterfully by their puppeteers (Aya Nakamura, Tobi Poster*, Daniel Harlock* and Michael Longden*), intricately balancing their own presence with the carefully realised fluidity and uncanny command of humanity to which they give their puppets.

The choice to portray Tarrare as a softly spoken, vulnerable and tortured victim is a powerful one, telling the heart-rending story of a man who cannot find his place in the world. His ill-fated love interest, Celeste (half of a conjoined twin whom he meets whilst touring with the ‘Circus Freaks), becomes the soul member to evoke empathy for his character as he battles with his condition, ever the outcast, thrown from one dismal situation to the next. And it is through Tarrare's good nature and silent yearning for love/companionship, that this interpretation seals his sorry fate.

Wattle & Daub take us deep into this macabre and picturesque world, guiding us blindly to its very centre, from which we cannot escape. The audience are drawn into the Circus Freak Show directly, thus subjecting us to the uncomfortable reality of Tarrare's world, leaving us no choice but to identify with the harsh circumstances of his time and to sympathise with his bleak state.

Although reading the history behind this play is deeply fascinating, I felt that the trajectory of the story was hindered slightly, due to the detailed description given in the programme. Giving all of the information before the story has been told, denies us of experiencing each bizarre step of Tarrare's journey, while the plot grows ever darker.

Tarrare is a witty, eccentric and beautifully realised production, that will haunt you from the start to finish. An utter triumph and proud demonstration of the complexity and intricacy of puppetry.

* = puppeteers who are singers.

(c) Naia Headland-Vanni 2015

The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak. By Wattle & Daub
Tobacco Factory - Bristol

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