Puppetry of the Penis *

Comedy (performance art, burlesque)

Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14)

August 18-28


It was perhaps regrettable for everyone involved that I chose to see ‘Puppetry of the Penis’ on Wednesday evening, sandwiched between ‘Hot Brown Honey’ (Assembly Roxy, 21:00, Aug 18-20, 22-27) earlier that evening and ‘Sweatshop’ (Assembly George Square, 22:00, same dates as HBH) the next day. Picture me: buzzing happily out of a hip-hop-inspired, passionately anti-colonialist, ferociously feminist, beehive of fabulousness and swagger, arriving just in time for a show I’d been looking forward to seeing for years after spying its perverse-sounding name on posters, wild-eyed and grinning with possibility. Then… ‘Puppetry of the Penis’ happened to me. 

Two men, white as Scotland is grey, one of whom bears more than a passing resemblance to Jeremy Clarkson (surely the individual we collectively least want to see naked?!), jiggling and stretching their genitalia for the pre-pubescent semi-amusement of a bunch of grown-ass adults. I don’t know exactly what I’d imagined, but this was the opposite of that. Maybe I’d thought of cute puppets with funny little penis noses satirising the current American establishment? Or puppets practising the Penis Monologues (more lengthy than the Vagina version, but to my imagination, no less groundbreaking)? I wasn’t sure. But definitely something deviant and interesting and… new. What I got instead was a stale throwback to whatever decade in which it was slightly cool to be this apologetically awful. I felt embarrassed for them – everything from the cheap-ass costume-shop wizard cloaks they wore at the beginning, to their issues with the audio-visual equipment, to the silent pauses after each unveiling, in which the audience got it together enough to at least pretend to be horrified for a moment, to the tiny… crowd. It was like getting a jumper for Christmas from your granny with a giant penis embroidered on the front, which she evidently thought was some kind of mad pink rocket and because she knew you liked sci-fi… yeh. Totes awks. 

Some genuine sniggering seemed to be happening around me at times, so even though I’m loathe to award any stars for this performance, I guess that earns them one. I think this performance scarred me a little though – I felt pretty glum afterwards. And I continued to feel this way until ‘Sweatshop’ on Thursday night. Drag cabaret, a sexy crooner, impressive aerial and acrobatics, weird and wonderful (and extremely hot) characters, whatever Gingzilla is, the original and mesmerising Betty Grumble… all-round excellent entertainment. I could wax lyrical for days about ‘Hot Brown Honey’ and ‘Sweatshop’ – both are revolutionary, modern, self-referential, powerful commentaries on the limits to what is impossible in this world we now live in. Unfortunately, ‘Puppetry of the Penis’ emphatically wasn’t that. Maybe it was never trying to be, but I get the feeling its lack-of-style has simply grown stale. Maybe ten, twenty years ago this was genuinely avant-garde?

All I know is that now, the bees and the sweat are busy filling the air with something much more multifarious, salty-sweet and satisfying.

Jo Harrison