Brilliant Bristol puppeteers Pickled Image proved with previous shows like Santa’s Little Trolls and Fireside Tales with Granddad that they are totally inside two idioms in particular: vivid, engaging puppetry that speaks to children and adults alike, and the wonder we all feel for the sparse, luminous landscapes, and mix of beauty and fear, of the far North.
Showing at Bristol Grammar School’s impressive 1532 Theatre until Wednesday as part of Tobacco Factory Theatres Beyond, the company’s new show finds them as at home as ever in these two worlds. Magical, beguiling, emotional and eye-wideningly beautiful, Yana and the Yeti is an eloquent tale of a young girl who pitches up in a strange new place that she must call home, where no one knows or understands her (hell, no one can even say her name – as eloquent a motif for foreignness and isolation as you could think of), and who ultimately finds friendship in the unlikeliest of places.
Pickled Image work wonders at every turn here. Performers Vicky Andrews, Adam Fuller and Nikki Warwick are perfect as puppeteers and voices alike – totally engaged, beautifully manipulating their creations, slipping deftly back into the darkness. Hattie Naylor’s script is brilliant: a made-up proto-Nordic babel which is nonetheless, accompanied by the puppets’ vivid gestures and the puppeteers’ expressive deliveries, totally intelligible at every turn. The puppets themselves are Pickled Image (and Emma Powell) at their usual striking, lifelike best.
There’s also some brilliant use of scale. Some way into the show Yana goes off on the adventure that initially appears to be her undoing, but which proves to win her both the friendship she craves and, finally, acceptance – no, admiration – from the whole village. And this journey is beautifully rendered using different-sized puppets and areas of set (including a stunning, snow-carpeted Nordic village in miniature), allowing us to move in a second from the village, where despairing cries for Yana echo around the snowy streets, straight into the deep dark woods where our heroine meets her unexpected companion.
The mood of this piece is also striking. Pickled Image are not afraid to make their tales profoundly atmospheric, haunting – even, momentarily, bleak and melancholy when Yana’s fortunes are at her lowest and the woods loom deep and dark around her. This is big-hearted, lyrical storytelling that leaves an emotional impact in audiences both young and old.
The ending is uplifting, the scenery ravishing. You fall quickly under the spell of the puppets, doughty inhabitants of this far Northern wilderness. Catch the show quick, and inject some Nordic wonder into your half-term.
Yana and the Yeti continues at the 1532 Performing Arts Centre until Wednesday, October 25 as part of Tobacco Factory Theatres BEYOND. For more info and to book tickets, visit www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/yana-and-the-yeti