Saturday 4 October 2008

Pero, Unicorn Theatre, Tooley Street, near London Bridge

Slightly surreal and highly unusual, Pero is a heady mix of puppet-show, play and musical set in an Italian village performed by a Dutch theatre group in English and aimed at children. It opens with the self-confident Sun (Annemarie Maas) and the mournful, but melodic Moon, (Guus Ponsioen) playing their keyboards and narrating, mostly in song, the life of Pero the baker and his next door neighbour Colombina, who runs a launderette. The neighbours, small childlike puppets, are controlled by the flirtatious, energetic and charismatic Inez de Bruijn and the more workmanlike, but still engaging, Timmy Velraeds. The tragic-comic storyline is echoed in the performers, garish, almost clownish, makeup and grey attire.

Embellished with charming details
While the lyrics are often amusing and absorbing, the script has its idiosyncratic moments, such as the strange repetition of the reasons why Pero and Colombina's childhood friendship hasn't blossomed into an adult romance. The music, composed by Guus Ponsioen, is mostly variations on one captivating melody performed in a series of musical styles from folk to opera. Maas' vocal talents are more than equal to the challenge. Half way through, the performance changes pace with the arrival of the amorous house painter Palantino. He wisks Colombina away on a honeymoon in the countryside, which emerges from a large black box rather like a page in a pop-up book. Pero is embellished with charming details, such as the steam that rises out of the bakery chimney and the fluffy rats that overrun its cellar. Although the performance only runs for an hour, you can get both adults and kids tickets at the Unicorn for as little as a fiver apiece. Produced by Speeltheater Holland, the overall effect is enchanting. 8/10