What comes to mind when we say the words “toy shop”? Children? Joy? Fun?
Well, that is far from the case for those who visit The Puppet King’s toyshop. Deserted and about to be demolished, the toyshop is a place of joy no longer. Instead, all that is left are five defective toys thrown away to be forgotten. The play delves deep into the stories of the five toys, each broken in their own way: one-armed Nutcracker; the “mute” Mime Puppet; the Blind Wax doll, Jester; the jack-in-the-box who is scorned for being too creepy; and the shopkeeper’s favourite toy, a pink teddy bear that has been mysteriously mended.
Although the toys do not necessarily seem to like each other, their bickering reveals a sense of ease that comes from a lifetime of living together, being the only company to one another that each of them has ever known. Being cooped up in an abandoned toy store may not be the most interesting way to live their lives, but the toys have a pretty clear dynamic worked out. The misfits form a dysfunctional family of sorts. While Nutcracker is the paternal figure of authority revered by the Mime Puppet, Teddy functions as the motherly aunt to the group, who takes care of the innocent wax doll and keeps troublemaker, Jester, under control.
We enter the toy store on Puppet Day, a day of celebration for the toys where they worship the elusive Puppet King who — legend says — rules the toy shop. The celebration ends, however, when the demolition notice comes into play. As their prayers to the Puppet King remain unanswered, and the family scatters, as each toy begins to fend for themselves, attempting to preserve what is important to them.
The audience then begins to realize that the cracks in the toys run deeper than the surface. When push comes to shove, the toys all begin to act on their own insecurities, slowly uncovering each of their deep dark secrets. Beneath her innocence, the vain Wax doll develops an inferiority complex from being one defective copy in twenty thousand factory-products. Teddy abandons her maternal responsibilities to seek her own survival, only to find that the shopkeeper does not value her for the sentimental reasons she imagines. Instead of the brave general in battle, Nutcracker’s nightmares reveal how he chopped off his own arm to escape from his duties and Mime puppet finds her voice, rebelling against the Nutcracker and turning into a zealot loyal to the Puppet King. Confident Jester is the first to insist on leaving the toy store, but ironically chooses to stay out of fear as she realizes that there is nothing for them in the world beyond their toy-shop home. In a world where humans have already deemed them obsolete with “free-of-charge” price tags, the toys struggle to find their true value beyond the purpose humans intended them for.
Aside from the toys, actors dressed in white are used to represent the humans in the play. A “trial” is held to determine who is responsible for the “murder” of the toys. Characters such as the shopkeeper, the shop’s landlord, and the architect in charge of the demolition each present their reasons for allowing the demolition to take place. Ultimately, the trial appears to be inconclusive as each individual has their excuses for prioritizing themselves and their livelihoods over the nostalgic memories that the toyshop represent. After all, it is only natural for every man (or toy) to act in one’s own interests, or so The Puppet King laments.
Having met Titus Yip, the playwright of The Puppet King earlier in June during the Wright Stuff Festival’s press conference, we were very excited to witness his debut as a playwright. As the final instalment and only Chinese play of The Wright Stuff Festival 2019, The Puppet King did not disappoint us with the uniquely eerie tone of its story. We thoroughly enjoyed all four of the plays in this year’s Wright Stuff Festival and we hope that the biennial Wright Stuff Festival will continue its tradition for years to come.