PUDDLES PITY PARTY – Soho Theatre, London.
Puddles is a tall man dressed as a clown. He has a gold crown emblazoned with a capital ‘P’, and the makeup is as complete as it can be – a full pierrot outfit, white face, red nose and a droopy, slightly sad mouth. He enters with purpose carrying a suitcase and pauses to pick up a beer from the bar.
Almost immediately, he plucks someone from the audience but then has them wait on stage while he finishes chewing his gum. That’s the moment when the audience – giggling slightly nervously at this point – begin to realise that there is something a little bit edgy going on. The chewing, and the moment by moment silent reassurance to Puddles’ audience victim, is a masterpiece of comic timing, set off by the surreal oddity of the clown.
Thereafter, Puddles launches into the main part of the act, singing a series of soulful rock ballads to a pre-recorded backing track, while on a screen behind, a variety of images – still and moving – provide a contrast, or a reinforcement of Puddles’ persona. The ballads are sung with huge conviction and if you close your eyes for a moment, you could be forgiven for thinking you are in big venue, with a powerful-voiced balladeer. Here though, you daren’t close your eyes, partly in anticipation of what is going to happen next.
The voice is great, and the ground covered is big too, in terms of repertoire if not in terms of emotional range – these are all sad, sad songs. The material includes the Bee Gees’ ‘I started a joke’, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, Lieber and Stoller’s ‘I who have nothing’, and it is all delivered with great presence. I’d be voting for Puddles to front our Eurovision entry any day of the week.
But then there are the other facets to the act – the images on the screen behind (from pets to 50’s black and white TV clips, to photos of Puddles with fans), and the comedy, most of which revolves around his selection of audience members to go on stage and participate, through wordless instructions, in setting off the performance.
Put Puddles in a crowded room with an enthusiastic audience, and I guarantee a lot of fun. He develops a slightly strange but always good-humoured conspiracy with the fans that we all gradually become. There’s nowhere to hide, but it really doesn’t matter. Have your photo with Puddles taken after the show too, if you want a more tangible memory and maybe become part of a future performance.
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By Michael Spring
Puddles Pity Party