Waterloo Sunset was a giant puppet theatre piece for kids created by Jack Finlay and the team of the Electric Theatre Workshop as part of Dumfries bicentenary celebrations of the battle of Waterloo victory over Napoleon.
Before I saw the play I wondered how the puppet theatre would be used to present a tale of a fairly remote historic event and communicate some complex political issues to children under an hour. And after watching it I conceded that it was a bold, entertaining and memorable piece of theatre which created a narrative of a grand scale.
A little boy called Jack from a small fishing village is upset about his father’s disappearance. In search of his father he embarks on a perilous journey across the channel with his sidekick Gull. This journey would allow them to encounter the dragon and eventually lead them to the fields of Waterloo where Wellington and the allied British and Prussian forces finally defeated Napoleon’s army.
Brightly coloured oversized carnival masks and good old political mockery so inherent to traditional puppet shows were interlaced with the interludes allowing kids to participate in the performance.
Waterloo sunset was originally designed to be performed outdoors in front of the Midsteeple in Dumfries town centre, hence the use of the larger than life body puppets for more visibility and carnivalesque character of public street celebrations. However, on the morning of the show due to the unusually high winds that could damage the masks it was transferred indoors to Studio One of the Electric Theatre.
Even indoors, the larger than life puppet characters and part-marionette mythical dragon figure combined with fairly minimalistic props remained effective, while the production’s participatory aspects were enhanced due to a more intimate setting.