Melbourne International Comedy Festival – The Jim Henson Company present Henson’s Alternative Puppet Up!: Uncensored

Generations after generation have grown up with the likes of Jim Henson’s creations Kermit The Frog, Miss Piggy, Animal and Gonzo and tonight we were introduced to 80+ more original characters created by the famous puppeteer and his company.

Travelling all the way from the US, six improvisers (singing and dialoguing), an MC and a Korg keyboardist with an extensive array of television and film experience took to the stage in a unique viewing of not just the puppets but also the people who control them. There were two vantage points of which you could watch the show from. Firstly, we could see the puppeteers as they performed from centre stage holding the puppets up to a video camera situated on the stage. Secondly, the camera projected just the puppets onto two screens situated above the stage.

Barry the Usher puppet introduced the opening night show to the Princess Theatre audience and explained that tonight’s performance will be all about “Puppetry, Henson and what it’s like to have a hand up your arse for fourty years.”

MC for the night was Patrick Bristol and his role was to pick the scene, choose which improvisers would do each scene, tell the audience certain aspects to pick for each scene and to tell the lighting person when to cut the scene. At times throughout the scenes he would yell out new choice and the improviser had to instantaneously replace the last sentence with something completely different.

Before each new scene the audience had to yell out Puppet Up!

Due to the improvisational nature of the show, neither the audience nor the performers knew what to expect on the night. Absurdity, crudeness and silliness were prime, as topics from the audience ranged from masturbating others in public, to the James Bond themed Salami goes to Neverland, to a children’s story called “You Ripped Me Off’.

Not only were we privy to seeing the improvisers act quickly on their feet, but we also got a glimpse into two original Jim Henson company scenes recreated. The first re-enactment was 1956’s “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Your Face”, originally performed by a twenty-year-old Jim Henson and his puppeteer wife Jane Henson. The second flashback was “Java”, originally performed in 1965 as a collaboration with Frank Oz.

Three lucky audience members were selected to participate on stage; Margaret and David (not the film reviewers from ABC) were asked about their first date and how they met, the improvisers had to recreate the scene with the puppets. Kieran, on the other hand, got to try his hand at puppeteering alongside the cast. It was here that we learnt how difficult and tediously long it takes to learn how to manoeuvre the puppets with the right mannerisms. As Kieran struggled to hold the puppet up to the camera properly, the improvisers made fun of the fact that his character couldn’t stand straight up.

The final scene was, by far, the most captivating and jaw dropping of the night. A dramatic play by the name of ‘Toorak Wankers’ involving a spa bath/Jacuzzi and a couple with a son suffering from Tourette Syndrome was performed not once, but three times. A few of the improvisers did the first showing, the following group had to copy the first one word for word, and the same for the third group. Amazingly, each consecutive group stayed close to the original.

This show, by far, is definitely a must-see and favourite for this year’s comedy festival. Not only was the audience laughing at the quick-witted jokes and dialogue, but the improvisers and the MC were as well. Despite their chuckling they were able to stay focused on the job at hand. The absurdity and unpreparedness made the night all the more fun and your money will be worth spent attending this show. Due to the nature of the improvisation, no two shows are the same, which means you can go again and again until you can’t laugh your guts out anymore. This production does justice to the Jim Henson legacy.

Hanging out with some of the puppeteers and the host at the post-show opening night media event
Hanging out with some of the puppeteers and the host at the post-show opening night media event
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