Having puzzled over GIMP – opening DaDaFest 2010 – on the previous night, SevenStreets ventured to the Unity to take in something that seemed rather more accessible in the form of The Grimstones: Hatched.

Take a dash of Tim Burton, a hint of, er, Thunderbirds and you might get close to The Grimstones; a marionette play by deaf artist and dancer Asphyxia that describes the gothic tale of the eponymous family in the first of what is intended to be a series.

The story is conveyed using three large books that fold out into sets for the play’s protagonists, including grieving seamstress Velvetta; alchemist grandfather Elcho and Velvetta’s daughter Martha.

Desperate to help her lovesick Mother, Martha uses her grandfather’s potion book to make a baby she believes will Velvetta get over the loss of her husband – with unforseen consequences.

The narrative is slight but charming, and the way that the story, music, puppetry, music and performance intertwine make for a wonderful hour.

The story is acted out by the puppets, which occasionally break the fourth wall and interact directly with Gertrude Grimstone and her assistant August, who are responsible for all the puppetry and narration.

Gertrude, played by Asphyxia, uses sign language while Paul Dowse as August narrates verbally – and the interplay between them and, occasionally, the puppet Grimstone characters is note perfect.

A wonderful soundtrack by Ania Reynolds complements proceedings, giving the different characters their own themes and placing The Grimstones even more firmly into the fictional genre Tim Burton has increasingly retreated into.

A Q&A after the play expands on the background to the play and the puppeteering, revealing that writer and performer Asphyxia created literally everything seen on set.

A chance to view the props up close reveals an astonishing level of attention to details, and serves to make The Grimstones fictional world even broader and deeper – and more episodes are promised in the future.

All told, a beautiful, intimate experience that was a real find by DaDaFest and perfect family entertainment on a cold, foggy night outside amongst Edwardian Liverpool’s cobbles.

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