Puppet shows are always amusing. There is something about them that simply is appealing, regardless of age. With the success of shows such as Avenue Q, puppetry is no longer seen as a thing to amuse children, but rather, as it rightly should be, as a respectable performing art. And Thank You For Being A Friend certainly delivers a great show. Funny and enjoyable, the show was in essence an episode from the sitcom Golden Girls, but on the stage and with puppets. As part of Midsumma Festival, and with a production team involving Neil Gooding and Matthew Henderson, the show is definitely worth going to watch.
One problem that may be apparent to audiences is that as the show is based on the Golden Girls, then it may be filled with in-jokes and references that only watchers of the show will understand and enjoy. Certainly, a large percentage of the audience seemed to appreciate jokes that may be relevant to the show and the characters within them. However, it was very easy to pick up on the dynamics of the show. Said dynamic is in essence a bunch of crotchety old women; all who are working through issues in their lives and the lives of their friends. It was also easy to pick up the character traits of each of the four women, from the old, cynical Sicilian and her daughter, a sexually “adventurous” woman who falls into the “cougar” camp, and a sweet but rather dim lady. The story itself feels like an episode of the Golden Girls, although adapted to the stage. They debate ethical issues of the day including homosexuality, whilst at the same time keeping things light and humorous with modern pop culture – references include 50 Shades of Grey and Britney Spears.
The puppetry itself was quite splendid. The cool thing about puppets is that even though they are fairly stationary, with good acting, they can bring everything to life in a fascinating fashion. It is a credit to both the actors and the designers that the entire show looked like it could have been a sitcom. The puppets were constructed in such a way so that it was easy to visualise the actual TV characters filling in and the voices and facial expressions of the actors was well done. One interesting aspect of the show was the actor who played the character Dorothy was in fact a man – you can check out our interview with Dorothy’s actor, Darren Mapes, here. Whilst it was initially done because of the original actress had a unique, low voice, it also added another dimension to the show, and it was certainly quite amusing. The other actresses and actors were all brilliantly chosen as well, as they could each inspire the audience to believe that the characters were there, in front of them. Instead of just seeing the actors and actresses, we saw the characters. Overall, it was very well acted and superbly imagined.
A fun little addition was the little ‘interval’ between acts. There were small television screens set above the stage, which at the start and during the show would occasionally have a few odd commercials playing. Although probably designed to help create that sitcom feeling, as well as giving the actors a chance to refresh, it was a nice touch that gave the audience something amusing and nostalgic to look at. It certainly helped get the audience’s attention, and made them feel a little more connected to the play.
Thank You For Being A Friend was an ingenious performance. Fun, energetic, and humorous, it certainly left the audience happy and entertained. Whilst dealing with ethical issues, it was still light hearted and enjoyable to watch. The puppets added a certain engaging element, which was truly endearing and funny, and really brought the characters to life. Overall, definitely a great show, and a worthy tribute to The Golden Girls.