The Sex Lives of Puppets at Southwark Playhouse | Review

The first review of the year takes me to a place I’ve never been before. No, I’m not talking about the Southwark Playhouse, where I’ve been many times but the subject matter of the show whose title explains precisely what it is going to be about. Welcome to The Sex Lives of Puppets.

The Sex Life of Puppets: Isobel Griffiths, Mark Down, Simon Scardifeld and Dale Wylde. Photographer credit Nigel Bewley.
The Sex Life of Puppets: Isobel Griffiths, Mark Down, Simon Scardifeld and Dale Wylde. Photographer credit Nigel Bewley.

The show comprises of puppets talking about specific topics around their sex lives. A question is asked and, in talking heads fashion the puppet or puppets if the ‘interviewees’ are a couple talk about the subject on the card. For those that remember them, the show is similar to the Aardman Animations’ Creature Comforts short film but with puppets instead of plasticine. A range of topics are covered in the various interviews, and the puppets do not hold back in discussing their varied and at times quite exciting sex lives. Indeed, one couple got so carried away talking about their particular turn-ons that they… well you guess for yourself, but it’s quite impressive for two oldies.

Mark Down and Ben Keaton are credited as Co-writers and directors and had taken inspiration from real-life responses to the questions raised and the cast of four improviser puppeteers worked and voicing the various puppets. Unfortunately, I’m not sure of their names as there was limited information available but given the tight space in which they were performing, they really worked well together with one working the head and speaking while the other worked the hands and, on occasion legs, to give each puppet a real personality so that you weren’t eventually aware of the puppeteers, like background noise while you concentrated on the puppet themselves.

Covering quite a range of sexually related subjects with a range of characters – I know they were puppets but each one was a character in its own right – meant that there was something for everyone in the production. For me, a couple of scenes didn’t completely work, particularly the avant-garde monologue, but the majority did and had me not only laughing my head off but also suddenly looking forward to retiring and moving into a care home – once you see the show, you’ll understand why.

The puppets created by Russell Dean and Blind Summit are difficult to describe. In some ways quite simplistic but in others – particularly their styling and clothing – told you so much about them as a character I have to say that sitting on the front row, it did become rather unnerving whenever I seemed to make eye contact with one, particularly if they were throwing out a rather embarrassing question at the time.

The show was around ninety minutes long including an interval which, if I’m honest I didn’t think it really needed, and was very entertaining. Whilst the ground of puppets having sex was broken a long while ago, particularly well in Avenue Q, The Sex Lives of Puppets takes it to a new level by, for want of a better word, humanising the puppets and examining their feelings and sexual wants in a way that has probably never been seen before. I’ve tried to avoid going into too much detail, as I’m not sure you would fully believe me if I described everything, but it’s an entertaining show that makes its audience think in surprising ways.

4 Stars

Review by Terry eastham

The Sex Life of Puppets is a multi-layered piece of theatre. On the surface, offering a fun and frank exploration of puppet desire at the hands of their Dionysian puppet-masters, and on a deeper level engaging skilled puppetry to express human moods, fears, worries, hang-ups and desires that will immediately resonate with its audience.

4 – 13 JAN 2024