Norman Shadowboxer

archive review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 15 August 2010

Norman Baxter has always had a fertile imagination. As a child, he spent hours making spaceships out of boxes found in his parents’ millinery workshop and, as an adult, his job in the filing department of a box factory leaves plenty of time for daydreaming. The subject of Norman’s daydreams? Gustave Gusteau, his prize-fighting alter ego, who always wins, no matter how tough his competition in the ring.

Using puppetry, shadow play and nursery rhyme-style storytelling, EmptyBox Theatre bring Norman to life on stage in all his cardboard glory. Everything in the show, from Norman himself to the sandwich in his lunchbox, is made of the stuff and there is a real joy to be had discovering the dozens of imaginative touches included.

Ronan McMahon’s script is simple enough to be comprehensible to very young children, but avoids the patronising tone so common to kids’ shows. The play is peppered with moments of genuine humour, many of them helped along by the clever rhyme scheme.

Switches between puppetry styles alter the focus of the action, moving between the miniature world of the play’s introduction to the larger-than-life shadow boxing ring where Gustave must face his deadly adversary. Each of these different styles is expertly demonstrated by EmptyBox’s team of puppeteers, who work with great poise throughout.

Norman Shadowboxer is the company’s debut show, but you would never guess it, such is the understated brilliance with which this sweet story is told.