Name: Nathaniel Tweak
Name of Edinburgh show: Famous Puppet Death Scenes
Venue: 73B: King’s Hall
Performance time: 8:30 PM
Show length: 70 minutes
Ticket price: 9 to 11 pounds
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background? How did you develop an interest in puppet death scenes?
I am the host of the wildly popular (and deeply moving) theatrical production known around the world as Famous Puppet Death Scenes. As everyone knows, the best part of any story is the part where someone dies; it’s the culmination of all the dramatic tension, the moment that touches us most deeply, that excites in us the most overwhelming emotions – and so I have assembled an evening of all the best bits of all the greatest puppet shows in history. Your favourite scenes are there – “Edward’s Last Prance,” from The Ballad of Edward Grue by Samuel Groanswallow; Act 1 Scene 3 of The Feverish Heart by Nordo Frot; Why I am so Sad by Sally – and of course the unforgettable “Bipsy’s Mistake” from Bipsy and Mumu Go to the Zoo by Fun Freddy. Dozens of puppets meet their tragic ends; it’s an unrelenting tornado of theatrical profundity.
I have been a puppet myself for as long as I can remember; my interest in the puppet death scene was sparked in that dread moment we all face in our lives at some point – the moment we realize we are not immortal. Of course, we all know this on an abstract level, but to truly know it, to feel it deep in our quavering hearts, is to change from cheery child to hollow and haunted, no matter at what age it dawns. There is not a moment that passes that I do not remember the tearing of that veil, the moment I faced death directly and steeled my heart to it, the moment I “developed an interest in puppet death scenes,” as you put it – the throbbing drums, the sharpened teeth, the flickering flames, the grunting, the echoing roar of the cave bears in the deeps….
How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2018?
The show is my life’s work. I have laboured long and travelled far to gather the original puppets of the original shows – scattered across the world, forgotten, in mouldering crates, ship’s bilges, ice-clogged caverns, hidden under ping-pong tables and disused treadmills in mouldering rec rooms. I have summoned the ghosts of their long-lost masters, to perform for you once again the greatest moments of their theatrical careers. And – I can give away this much – at the culmination of the evening, I myself will take the stage to perform the greatest puppet death scene of all.
The scenes collected in my show are eternal and universal. Everything and everyone dies. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an audience member in 2018 or the Pleistocene; this show is about you, and how little time you have left. It’s like the K-Tel Greatest Hits Album that has every single song that has ever made you cry, with the volume cranked up to fuckin’ full.
How did you become involved with Old Trout?
I found them under a pile of old furniture out back of the theatre, and lured them through the stage door with a half-full bottle of Irish whisky. They can be stubborn, but they have surprisingly nimble fingers, and they’re easily frightened, two qualities that make them excellent (well, passable, at least) puppeteers. Commonplace technology like flashlights and Slinkies seem to them like powerful black magic, and so it’s been a small matter to convince them that I am a kind but demanding deity.
Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
Love each other.
What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
Once, I slipped on a puddle of my own tears, windmilled my little tiny twig-like arms in a desperate attempt to stay on my feet that failed tragically, fell with a heartbreaking little squeak and cracked my head on a footlight, spilling sawdust all over the front row before slithering off the front of the stage into a tangle of strings and paper machée underneath a seat behind a large person’s legs; the puppeteers, mad with panic from losing their leader, crawled through the audience, calling my name, but nobody could find my insensate corpse for twenty minutes of unbearable sorrow before finally I came to just enough to touch the large person’s ankle, alerting him to my presence. Soon the puppeteers had me in their care – one clutching me close to his heart, tears streaming down his face and into his rough beard, while the others tried to fend off the wailing audience members who wanted to dismember me for their reliquaries.
They took me backstage and filled my head up with sawdust again and glued a patch over the crack and I was right as rain again! We laughed and laughed. And then wept.
Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
Who could forget the first time they saw a puppet die? It’s one of the most emotionally devastating experiences a person can have. When an otherwise inanimate object with cute googly eyes and a funny voice come to life before our eyes, it fills us with such delight and wonder — and then to see that life snatched away drives a dagger deep into our psyches, a dagger which then opens up at the pointy end to reveal a little dagger mouth, that screams inside of our hearts in a little tiny squeaky voice: “please, no, don’t let the puppet die! For in that puppet’s death, do I not sense the dread whispers of my own impending mortality?”
Great works of art ask questions like that – questions that maybe can’t ever truly be answered, but must be asked again and again by each generation anew, even though the answer is actually in this case pretty obviously “yep.” And so each generation creates a new masterpiece of puppet theatre, which becomes the fulcrum of our collective hopes and fears. Eternal works like Never Say It Again, by Linda Snuck, or Dulce et Decorum Est by Corporal Norman Strake, or The Forgotten Dish by Sterling Lowry have not only defined their eras, they have shown us who we really are, deep down, where nobody else can see. We owe those puppeteers so, so much. They are the weavers of our dreams.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Just try my best to stifle my weeping.
What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
I’m not even going to try to conceal the fact that the shows I’m going to mention are all from Canada and are playing in the same venue as us, which is called CanadaHub in case you didn’t catch that we’re all from Canada, to wit: Daghter by Adam Lazarus, Huff by Cliff Cardinal, Chase Scenes by Ming Hon, and First Snow by Théâtre Pàp, Hôtel-motel, and the National Theatre of Scotland, which is actually technically not from Canada but still cool.
Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the fringe?
In all honesty, it’s a horrible thing to experience. If you’re thinking about buying tickets, you should go do something more cheerful. You only have so much time left.