By Joana Simmons
“Everything is matter, and everything matters” – Quork.
Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can have the biggest effect. The Secret Life of Suitcases, originally co-produced by the Unicorn Theatre, London, is a beautiful tale told through puppetry and music for audiences of all ages. We follow the story of Larry, who is swept up from his busy life by a magic suitcase and taken on a journey to see the beauty in his world that business can often cloud. It’s a heart-warming, relevant and very relatable journey that leaves a smile on faces big and small.
The Secret Life of Suitcases is the second collaboration between Ailie Cohen and playwright and director Lewis Hetherington. Their elegant poetic narrative weaves well with soundtrack by Niroshini Thambar to take us away to a world that is not far from our own, but extremely well-crafted. Larry is taken by his from his busy office life to the park, the sea, an island to outer space, and in the process shown the things he is missing. There are droplets of humour and snippets of wisdom that are engaging yet completely un-patronising for young audiences, and sent chuckles around the grown-ups, myself included. That’s one of my favourite parts of this show: the story is opened up for the audience to take what they want, rather than in a “I can’t hear you boys and girls!” kind of way.
A simple set of suitcases in conservative colour schemes transforms seamlessly into various landscapes. It astonishes me how the puppeteers do it all with their two hands, manipulating the scenery and characters while maintaining dialogue from the characters and energetically keeping the story going. A few clever changes of t-shirt and costume combined with lighting take us from the normal to the nautical and astronomical. The simplicity is stunning. Cohen and Hetherington do a fantastic job doing the whole show without microphones, though sometimes I found it difficult to hear. The story developed to a final lesson for Larry (and us) to learn right at the end, which was beautiful but some of the younger audience members started to get restless and may have missed it. It’s difficult to present a show like this that develops and gets us invested without sacrificing the length of a show – this one almost achieves that.
It was an absolute treat to sit back and enjoy this clever creation. Puppetry is an art form that can sometimes cross into the naff or tacky, but The Secret Life of Suitcases was humourous and distinguished. I am happy I got to catch it; it was only on this weekend, but be sure to remember the name to catch it next time. The message is as beautiful as its delivery.
The Secret Life of Suitcases played at The Arts Centre from 12 & 13 August, 2017