As a crowd gathers in the west end of Hull, we find Michelle Dee drawn to a theatre space secreted away on a Hull estate to experience a puppet show pitting Shakespeare versus Molière.

Shakespeare versus Moliere.
Shakespeare versus Molière, by Indigo Moon Theatre & Compagnie via Cane. Photo by Jerome Whittingham @photomoments

Presented and performed by collaborating companies Indigo Moon Theatre (UK) and Compagnie Via Cane (France) with (Anna Ingleby) and Jean-Frederic Noa respectively Shakespeare versus Molière is a new full-length show for adults that imagines a dramatic and swift souring of Anglo/French relations, over disagreements in how to respond to the migration crisis: disagreements which will have disastrous consequences for all.

Imagine if those three witches who stopped Macbeth and Banquo on that blasted heath were intent on more than just the crown of Scotland, imagine them as being here and now cast as unseen Machiavellian forces with mantles of money, media and weapons.

The puppets are dramatically brought to life, given voice and presence, by Anna and Jean, sometimes in English sometimes in French. Each play a border agent checking papers and making decisions as to who is allowed to enter. Surely the children will be accepted? Some of the puppets have a nightmarish steam punk quality, with household objects becoming facial features. The features of the migrant characters, dressed in sacks are purposely vague, they have a statue like quality; solemnity and reverence.

There is a line in the show, which echoes across borders and boundaries of social class: “Not everyone who is honoured has done good service.” It is spoken by a migrant who becomes the object of affection and adoration by a woman which leads to some very tender moments, as the characters – no longer puppets made from wood and metal and cloth – look for the humanity and seek comfort in the other.

With lots of surprises in this multi-layered, multi-media show – news updates from both sides of the English Channel by Havi Ibrahim, plus dramatic soundtrack and lighting effects created by Haviel Perdana – there is one character who looms large over all the rest. A beastly creation emerging from the smoke who promises a new life in return for cold hard cash. The people smuggler trading in human misery is utterly captivating and repellent at the same time; he even has his own theme tune. A magnet for mixed emotion and a good jumping off point for further discussion on the current migrant situation.

The narrative structure references classic texts, applying poetic forms and rhythms from the past to tell a universal story of power, greed and division, as ghoulish figures and atrocities from the past come to the fore demanding an answer to the question; are we doomed to repeat the failures of those who have gone before us, or is there another way?

The bilingual nature of the production adds a layer of authenticity as one side is pitted against the other: a French audience might experience the show slightly differently to an English one. The set and puppets are deftly handled, and while all is on show none of the magic is lost: marionettes prancing on the pier this is ain’t.

Shakespeare versus Moliere (ages 12+) runs until March 12 at Indigo Moon Theatre, Scrapstore Studios, Dairycoates Avenue, Hull on 2pm and 7.30pm each day.

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