You’ve never seen puppets behaving like this
Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first. As puppets go, the Ulster Kama Sutra ones aren’t all that creepy and crocheted, talking genitalia turns out to be disturbingly adorable.
Created by Andrea Montgomery, Nuala McKeever and Antony Toner The Ulster Kama Sutra is a puppet’s-eye view of Northern Ireland’s attitudes to sex, gender and all the rest of that sort of thing. The show is loosely themed around the idea of the original Hindu Kama Sutra – including the translation of some passages into Norn Irish, with scented smoke becoming a go-over with his mam’s Febreze.
However, as the cast point out to audience early on, The Kama Sutra is not just about sexual positions (there are ‘feelthy pictures’ of three girls and), it’s a guide to living well. In the same way, The Ulster Kama Sutra isn’t just a show about puppets making jokes about sex.
Sometimes, they sing about sex. The cougar song about three older women out on the prowl (they do their shopping online, daylight is not their friend) is a personal favourite. Although, I have to admit, I was humming ‘I’m your Ulster lover, out on early release’ for the rest of the night.
Seriously though, although the jokes come thick and fast – from the prudish Ulster porn movie to the terrifying euphemisms of the sex education nun (silly whistles, bell turbots and dingly dells) – there’s more to the show than naughty cabaret. It is also thought-provoking, touching and sometimes even sad.
Director Montgomery choreographs the emotions of the performance with a sure hand, getting the audience laughing and then undercutting it with raw honesty. It’s not manipulative, or it as un-manipulative as a staged performance can be. The stories, which are true ones collected from around the province by production company Terra Nova, are laid out with no dramatic bells and whistles.
It makes it all the more effective, as the Lesbian Vagina confesses her self-consciousness and her family’s reaction to her coming out (‘praying the sin out’) in between joking about getting with her girlfriend and how old people shouldn’t have sex. It is a particularly Northern Irish way of doing things, wrapping anything hurtful up in a protective layer of mockery.
Despite the fact that it is a woolly, hand-crocheted vagina with boggly puppet eyes on stage, you still feel for her situation.
This is, of course, due halfway to the puppeteer between the wooly vagina – athough it is actually surprisingly easy to forget about them. There is no real attempt to hide the actors lugging the puppets about – they duck behind a screen for the sock puppets but that’s about it – but after a while you do realise you’re watching the puppet faces.
Mind you, that’s what they want. Still, they do deserve praise. Not only do they do an amazing job with the puppets, they also bring life and charm to the few non-puppet interludes.
Caroline Curran, fresh from playing Maggie Muff in the sell-out show 50 Shades of Red, White and Blue at the MAC, in particular is an amazing expressive actor, even when carrying a puppet nearly as big as her around. One scene where she plays the voice-over to read out an email composed by the other puppets, goes from funny to side-splitting due to fourth-wall breaking asides and glares.
Meanwhile Shri Patel, the newest cast member, does an impressive job of keeping a straight face during the least offensive porn scene ever…Norn Ireland style. Nuala McKeever and Neil Keery also give great puppet.
This is The Ulster Kama Sutra’s second outing, it launched last year (very successfully) during the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, and it has been updated to reflect recent events. There are a few references to the flags protests and Alliance party, for example.
Still, the core of the show remains the confessional ‘What Ulster Really Said’. In the middle of the jokes about the ‘Tout Position’ (I won’t spoil it, the audience actually guffawed though) and songs about predatory cougars, they give the show its heart.
Plus, those crocheted body parts really are very cute. They could sell them. Seriously, the audience went ‘awww’ over the Country Penis like it was kitten gif on the internet.
Ulster Kama Sutra is at the Grand Opera House until February 23, at the Market Place Theatre on Feb 28, at the Derry Playhouse on March 1 -2, the Courtyard Theatre on March 5 – 6, Riverside Theatre on March 7 and Down Arts Centre on March 8.,