By Susanna Mulvihill
Based on a novel by Mathias Malzieu, The Boy With The Cuckoo Clock Heart is a modern fairytale that opens with a boy being born on the coldest night Edinburgh has ever seen. His heart succombs to the cold and he is revived by the doctor attending his birth who affixes a cuckoo clock to his heart as a primitive sort of pacemaker. Named Jack, the child is assured he will survive but is warned of three things: first, never touch the hands of his miniature clock, second, never get angry and finally, never to fall in love. The story follows Jack as he grows then, rather unsurprisingly, falls in love with the first pretty girl he meets and the trouble that causes him. Presented by Jimmy Grimes and the Magpie Puppet Co., The Boy With The Cuckoo Clock Heart is a cross-genre piece that mixes puppetry with musicals and theatre.
The plot, though bland and predictable, is inoffensive enough, but there were many faults with this show as a whole. Firstly, the Pleasance Attic is a small venue with a floor level stage and only slightly raked seating. Much of the action involving the puppets is near the floor and anyone not in the front row has seriously restricted visibility. If you are there with children and seated in the second or third rows you will be tempted to put the kids on your knee so they can actually have a chance at seeing what is going on, but the seats are so uncomfortable you will soon regret this decision. Secondly, there are so many ideas in here that none of them are given any chance to develop properly. There is a striped curtain hanging at the back of the stage that acts as a screen for a backstage area, then is backlit for silhouettes and at one point there is a 15 second projection onto it, but as both multi-media purposes are only snippets in the whole production they feel rather superfluous. A metronome is used for the clockwork heart initially, and to good effect, but is then never seen again as it is replaced by a whirring wind-up toy. Thirdly, and this is possibly the most major problem with the piece, we are presented visually with a steam-punk show but the music and dialogue are more High School Musical than Victoriana. The accompaniment to the very uninspired and twee score is mostly played rather inexpertly on a tinny electric piano, and the character who is meant to be a celebrated singer has a voice too thin to be convincing. There are flaws in the basic story as well, as Jack’s age is never entirely clear. It comes across that he is only 10 when he falls in love, travels on his own to Paris, goes on a romantic date there, but then the action moves to six years later and Jack is suddenly played by a man who is at least in his mid-twenties, which is confusing and displays a lack of attention to detail that penetrates the entire production.
The play is saved to a certain degree by the narration and impromptu quips of Mr Heim (Martyn Dempsey) in between scenes and the movement of the puppets is delightful. The ensemble cast is strong, excepting the singing, and there are some good moments that lift the play out of sickly sentimentality. There were however six members of the cast and this made the small stage feel crowded. If perhaps the characters had all been puppets, with the story being narrated by Dempsey and the music left out, this would have been a much better show, but as it stands it is just a directionless mish-mash of ideas without a clear focus.
What the kids say: “I liked that the puppet grew into a man, but I didn’t like that I couldn’t see everything when the puppets were near to the ground”