An adorable stuffed toy dog candidly recounts the boredom of his first kiss. Two shoes play footsie, entwine and – shivering with anticipation – reveal hairy legs to the sound of “Teenage Kicks”. A series of gruesome STI puppets in ghoulish green lighting creep from the stage towards us, boasting of their potential effects before meekly acknowledging treatment options and debunking common myths. Sock puppet cabaret might be a niche genre, but Wondering Hands’ “SEX and Puppets” must be the first show to begin a skit with “Hi, I’m chlamydia.”
Lady Glittoris and the Vajazzles (dancing genitalia, check) lead us in a rendition of “Keep your hands off this pussy”, a message to Donald Trump. Socks with a range of regional accents shiver outrageously as they name the body parts that get them going, ending with a chorus of “my whole body is a sexual organ.” It’s strange to see an art form usually associated with children dissecting the most taboo sexual issues, and the humour stems partly from that juxtaposition. But I realise very quickly that puppetry isn’t just the slapstick punch-and-judy world we tend to think of it as – it can be subtle, clever, entertaining and thought-provoking.
While comedy dominated the show, the most shocking sketches were the surprisingly moving stories (submitted anonymously) about first times. I had expected the show to be entertaining, but emotive? At one point, fluorescent ping pong balls stand in for kids whose make-believe roleplay unexpectedly relocates to the bedroom, circling wider and wider until they’re entangled. with the sobering phrase “there might have been kissing”.
Another story otherwise comprised chiefly of erotic fiction clichés (a couple with a virginity fetish, a teenager exposed suddenly to a queer sexual awakening, an online chat leading to a BDSM hook-up) instead focuses on relational aspect of the story – the acknowledgment of compromise and insecurity lurking beneath the scene of sexual ecstasy, the dual importance of desire and wanting to be desired, as well as of trust. The simple acknowledgment “I felt wanted” is hugely powerful – even if it does come from a wooden doll.
If there’s any show that could convince you of the validity and vibrancy of cabaret puppetry as an art form, it’s “SEX and Puppets”.
Words by Amardeep Dhillon
Photography by Sebastian Nowell