Bruce @ The Underbelly Cowgate (Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015) Review

Bruce is essentially a square sponge, a little bigger than a human head, with a slit two-thirds down creating the crease for a large, gaping mouth. He has circular ping-pong ball eyes, in an expression of ambiguous surprise. His life force is comprised of the actors/puppeteers Tim Watts and Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd, who are part of Weeping Spoon Productions, based in Perth, Australia.

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Bruce is a double act; the puppeteers are concealed in black costume, morphing into the invisible background of Bruce’s void-like world. Only Nixon-Lloyd’s hands are visible in white mime gloves, accentuating the gestures of the characters. Watts brings a voice to the characters and moves the sponge head.

Although the job is pretty strict split between the two, where Watts is the father of the main voices; Nixon-Lloyd is the body and gestures, the characters are nevertheless born in a rehearsal room of shared exploration. Both actors equally analysed these characters and there is a dynamic depth to each personality. Unpredictably, I feel sorry for the antagonist; all he wants is revenge, but his sad disposition never achieves it in the end.

Bruce is immaculately crafted; each movement and trill of the voice holds the specific expression that the face cannot declare. It has an atmosphere of cartoon; a 2D structure where the sponge appears, and moves about in the obsidian background.

Watts carries in his pocket the controller for the lights and sound queues; this makes the chop and change of characters smooth and speedy. Each major character has its own light, for example “evil one-eyed Joe” has the colour red; Bruce has white. In their duologue together, the light quickly flicks between red and white, which creates an emotive memory, the characters become the colour and vice versa.

There is strong stereotyping in terms of character choices, as well as the notorious story structure of this piece. But cleverly by doing so, the audience follows a very complex and exciting story, with not much happening physically on stage. The audience is entrusted to fill in the gaps and make connections with the stereotyped references. Smart, as nothing is then missed; we see everything even if it is not shown in the space, because we have seen it all before. Such as the rocket flying into space, the burning building, and the surreal trip that follows a heroin injection. These are all images the audience creates through their own expansive imagination.

Here at Edinburgh it is a massive hit. There is joy in the diverse and funny characterisations personified onto the sponge. Keeping it light-hearted and open, nothing is very deep, which makes it an easy and entertaining watch. Bruce falls in love, gets rejected and broken hearted, takes drugs that help him create a million-dollar book, he becomes a dad, goes to space and manages to get lost in time; there he sees himself reborn, and all the while he is being chased by a Russian character who embellishes in a sad antagonistic role. How much can one sponge do?!

It is a new-fangled production, very interestingly told; I haven’t seen anything like it before. The mind attunes to the intricate movements of the sponge, and luckily it is easy to focus on finer details at the Fringe Festival, because the stage and audience relationship are so close.

There is something very pleasing knowing the performers move exclusively with their creation, mirroring how a tortoise moves with his home. Their get in, get out is quick, as they don’t need any extra figurehead, or fancy technology; the two rely solely on themselves to conduct Bruce and bring Bruce to life. Indeed, it will be easy to take anywhere. A show that is clear, inventive and fun. 4/5

Review by RATHE.

Bruce is currently showing at the Underbelly Cowgate at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival until Sunday 30th August. For more information on the production, visit here…

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