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Pickled Image’s devised work Houdini’s Suitcase promises a dreamlike world, a piece of visual poetry and delivers pretty much on that pledge. An intriguing mixture of performance, puppetry and a rich soundtrack, the action centres arround an old man on a railway station surrounded by his suitcases. Each of the suitcases seems to hold a different aspect of his memory, much of which is taken up by macabre recollections of life as a circus performer.

The production has some lovely touches of dark humour, such as the King of Pain puppet, a figure who lives in fear of his own acts of self mutilation and a magicians hat that contains the fetid decomposed corpse of a rabbit. The circus segments are largely narrated by a static, ringmaster puppet and each of them work well, aside perhaps from a sequence in which a large dancing bear enters the stage and the action slows. As with all the puppetry sequences, there is a certain magic, but the huge bear moves a little too tentatively.

Where the production really takes on a magical aura is during the darker, more personal memories explored. We see the old man’s terrifying recollections of war, death and childhood illness enacted beautifully by a tiny sobbing child puppet, that later flew in the sky, footlit to cast a huge shadow accross the stage as anti aircraft guns and air raid sirens pierced the stillness. Most movingly of all was a beautifully worked section in which the old man discovers a dress in one of the cases and waltzes through his life and love with this dreath, spelling out passion and loss with dexterity and ingenuity.

In summary, this play offers a thoughtful meditation on the nature of memory and mortality. Though I might have liked a tad more energy from time to time and wished the macabre and vulgar might have been pushed a little further, I cannot offer to much criticism of a fun and highly inventive showcase of theatrical invention!.

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