Theatre Review: Grandfather's House

Words: Adrian Reynolds
Monday 26 March 2018
reading time: min, words

Shadows and puppets bring Grandfather’s House to life


Grandfather’s House was brought to Lakeside by Normandy-based theatre practitioners Cie Akselere. The inspiration comes from memories of childhood visits to a grandad and grandma living in Norfolk, whose rural home is a place of tranquil magic. For director Colette Garrigan that personal history also overlaps with a Chagall painting featuring a grandfather clock.

Her own grandfather’s clock plays a central role in the show that Colette and company have conjured, transforming the performance space into an imaginarium. It’s a word I’ve just pulled out of a hat, which hopefully helps describe how the audience are seated either side of a central corridor space, so as well as seeing what the performers are doing you can look over them and the heads of the audience at the movements of shadow puppets behind in the windows of the house.

Both visually and with regard to music and sound design, it’s an exquisite piece. In moving and inventive ways - often using simple ideas, motifs, and props - memories are evoked and a sense of childhood conjured. The grandfather clock is both what it appears to be, and a means of marking time over decades, as grandfather’s life is recounted using a piece of rope that’s variously a washing line and a tightrope.

There is delightful use of puppets, and a length of rope marking out a man’s lifespan is effective and emotive. In so many ways the show works in ways that are haunting and lingering. Yet it also falls short of its promise – the text is unremarkable and its delivery is more competent than inspired, the performers having greater skills in puppetry than as orators. And though the show is intended for all over 5, I was with a 6 year old who could not connect with concepts of nostalgia that the show addresses. It held Martha’s attention mostly, but there were definitely parts that meant little or nothing to her.

So much to like then, but also a sense that Grandfather’s House doesn’t always work for younger audience members, and might work more powerfully with no words being used. Maybe a stretch to do that, but I’m pretty sure that’s something Cie Akselere are up to for a a future show.


Grandfather’s House was at Lakeside Arts Theatre Friday 24 March 2018.

Grandfather's House website

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