Tangle is the last production to emerge from the theatrical scribblings of Sheffield Theatres’ 2005 works-in-progress Pyramid Festival – a wonderful event/idea that sadly didn’t return in 2006. That’s a long gestation period for a show. Other works previewed at the festival have returned to the studio as real masterpieces of devised theatre, cranking standards, and expectations to an unfairly high level. Unlimited Theatre’s entry doesn’t quite reach those expectations, but it’s still an endearing, funny and beguiling piece of work.
Tangle is a lighthearted affair compared to much devised theatre. Taking as its core theme the subject of teleportation, and peppering its b-movie shenanigans with other conspiracies surrounding secret experiments, disappearing persons, mad scientists and the like, its aesthetics veer somewhere between a live comic-book montage and a school play.
Two projector screens display comic-strip captions to introduce the scenes being played out below – Mad Scientist Hamish (Chris Thorpe) attempts to teleport himself after a successful or delusional attempt to teleport an orange, despite the best efforts of fellow scientist Jocelyn (Gemma Brockis); private detective Malcolm (Jon Spooner) tries to help Flora (Lucy Ellinson) find her long lost brother somewhere under Wimbledon Common. He may, or may not, have been involved in Project Tomsk which also may (or may not) have had something to do with turning a Womble invisible.
Apart from the projector screens, the staging is largely made up of what look like old school furniture, on a boarded stage that, along with simple but effective side-lighting, makes the stage feel a little like an old classroom during a lunch break. The characters are all portrayed as three dimensional characters trapped firmly within two-dimensional stereotypes.
However, unlike the typically ironic post-modern pawn, they don’t exude a self-aware acceptance of their stereotype but instead seem subjected to it by a mischievous puppet-master. They all have things they must achieve, convictions that a skill or power they possess is second to none and that they must use it, however their reasons why get flimsier as the story moves on. As the two pairs of characters come together, and find themselves entangled in layer after layer of impossible coincidence, the comedy feels almost Shakespearean, with the invisible puppeteer a modern-day Puck sent by a bored Oberon to create him some entertainment.
All the performances are solid, with Thorpe and, particularly Ellinson standing out, the latter giving a perfect audition piece for a future Penelope Pitstop movie – amusingly annoying, but never irritating enough to distract from the wider production. As a whole the piece feels warm, comforting and gently sad – suitably autumnal theatre, in fact. It didn’t quite have the emotional impact of Dead Earnest’s The Puzzle Women or Third Angel’s Presumption, however I did leave the theatre with a wry smile, which may, just possibly, have been the point.