>FLAMINGO BAR by Frank Soehnle

>reviewed by james koh

>date: 15 may 1999
>time: 8pm
>venue: the substation
>rating: ****

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


A toy swam gliding on the floor across the dark stage towards a beacon of light, an opera loving, fan waving puppet dog, a dancing puppet-skull -- welcome to the strange, surreal and captivating world of Frank Soehnle, renowned German puppeteer. With nimble movements taken from German expressionistic dance, Soehnle brings his puppets to life to portray the bygone era of the exotic Flamingo Bar.

These wooden puppets are hand-crafted from a gothic and macabre perspective, with gargoyle-like features, ghostly white skin and thin and bony bodies. They depict various vaudeville characters, from brazen and flirtatious old women, to graceful fan dancers, to a opera-loving, fan waving dog. It was the latter who drew the most laughs form the audience, with its diva-like affections and prima-donnish mannerisms, as it tried to follow the opera performance it was watching.

>>'The performance floats by in its shimmering strange world for an hour -- full of ambiguities and possibilities of meanings'

But it was the central puppet that was the most captivating -- itn its refusal to be brought to 'life' by the puppeteer. It hung estranged in the middle of the lighted stage, its melancholic alienation highlighting. Its paradoxical situation -- it was unable to move on its own, yet it was unwilling to be brought to life by another being. It was thus a lone figure in this strange Edenic world, where it was constantly tempted by Eve-like figures -- old women, devil-like creatures and even the God-like puppeteer himself. This evokes the underlying themes of the performance -- yearning, desire and ultimately death, not only the death of innocence but the death which occurs to the puppets when the performance finally ends.

And this brings us to the fact the Eden portrayed on stage is the inner world of Frank Soehnle. The puppets are possibilities of his very own selfhood; they speak out for his silent inner voices. This is his Eden and he is God -- his omnipresence is seen by the fact that he is never hidden during the performance. Sometimes he even becomes part of the puppet, like when he puts on a pair of high heels to portray the legs of an old woman puppet. This brings us then to another level which Soehnle realises that he is a puppet as well, a puppet to be pulled around for the benefit of the audience. And he knowingly puts himself in various positions where the distinct between audience/performer and puppet/puppeteer breaks down. This is seen in the way Soehnle after a segment of the performance, deliberately stared at the audience in dazed incredulity as if he suddenly realised that there were people watching him, such that the audience becomes uncomfortable, some not knowing whether to laugh, others laughing too loudly to hide the fact that the puppeteer has in the end became the puppet.

The performance floats by in its shimmering strange world for an hour -- full of ambiguities and possibilities of meanings. Not only is this seen by the ambivalent sexuality of a puppet in drag, it is also seen in Soehnle's refusal to adopt a directive approach. This performance thus becomes a collection of visual vignettes, and when viewed as a whole, it enthrals the audience in its ambiguous force.