“Oh my goodness!” exclaims a little boy in the audience halfway through The Biggest Marionette Circus in the World. Klinika Lalek’s huge puppets—a giraffe, a lion and an elephant—demand that sort of reaction. They’re massive, unlikely contraptions, stirring thrillingly into life. Even us bigger kids in the audience struggle not to be briefly captivated.
It’s just a shame that nothing around them is half as impressive. The structure of the show is more chaos than circus, lurching awkwardly and uncertainly from act to act. It all has a precarious, improvised feel – and not in a good way. Supposedly holding it all together, the ringmaster seems no wiser than anyone else, struggling to summon even the most cursory enthusiasm for the spectacles he introduces. Masters of ceremonies are rarely so lacklustre.
The lack of narrative need not be an issue, but the absence of anything in its place becomes more and more of a problem as the show plods on. Clumsy bits of patter with the audience and empty claims that “anything is possible” do a half-hearted job of moving things along, adding little along the way.
And while the life-size puppets are the main attraction, their sheer size leaves little room for anything else. They’re unwieldy to manoeuvre round the stage and even the lofty space of St Stephen’s feels cramped with the looming trio of marionettes lined up on the stage. Spectacle is all very well, but it needs to be executed better than this.