This year’s Fringe is full of non-human stars, but the puppets in Tortoise In A Nutshell’s Feral surely deserve some kind of award for being the tiniest.
From a child-like sketch of a boy and his sister living in a nondescript seaside town, the world of Feral grows into three dimensions as a trio of performers assemble cardboard cutout houses, shops and churches on a small platform in the centre of the stage. Then, using hand-held video cameras, they take the action down to miniature black & white street level, bringing the diminutive inhabitants to life on a live edited projection screen suspended above the diorama.
The ingenuity of the effect is impressive, as is the nimble skill of the performers. Wordlessly, they follow the character of young Joe and his sister through their lives — routine at first, then altering forever when the much-vaunted ‘Supercade’ opens on the town’s seafront. Rather than being filled with superheroes as Joe hopes, the gaudy commercialism of the Supercade instead transforms the town into something far darker; the little cardboard streets becoming much meaner.
With its intricate set, live video editing and sound mixing, Feral is demandingly technical, yet Tortoise In A Nutshell rarely stumble over it. Once into the flow of the conceit, suspension of disbelief is relatively easy, with your eye mostly on the screen, glancing down mainly to marvel at the performers’ impressive dexterity and cohesion.
Feral’s plot however is, like its world, perhaps a little too flimsy. Its themes of capitalist greed and loss of innocence are drawn with broad strokes and are not quite enough to sustain the show through its length.
As a technical accomplishment, Feral is hugely impressive. Breathing life, charm and fear into characters barely more than three inches tall is no mean feat and its world is expertly-realised, filled with clever, satirical detail. Ultimately however, the scale of Joe’s journey through Feral’s tiny streets remains a little too small.