Review: Bill's 44th

Loneliness meets surrealism in a puppetry performance that explores ageing and friendship

theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
33902 large
Bill's 44th
Photo by Ben Wright Smith
Published 06 Aug 2023

In a nondescript, American apartment some time in the recent past, Bill, played by a puppet operated by two people, wakes up on his 44th birthday. He enthusiastically puts on a spread of crudités and punch, decorates with balloons and party hats, and waits for his guests to arrive. 

And waits. And waits. Bill is impatient at first, checking his watch every few minutes and trying not to stare at the door. He tries to distract himself by dancing, tweaking the punch's strength and drawing faces on the balloons to keep him company. Like all good puppetry, Bill is immensely expressive. His plight elicits sympathy from the audience despite his blank face. His frustration and disappointment gradually and convincingly increases, as does his amusing clumsiness that draws on conventions of slapstick comedy.

Then, things take a surreal and surprising turn. This shift away from Bill's reality challenges his  creeping fear of loneliness, even though the events that unfold are often utterly bizarre and baffling. More puppets are introduced, of different kinds, which shows how skilled the three puppeteers are. Though some of the events that unfold in Bill's home don't totally cohere to others, ultimately this is a poignant reflection on aging, friendship and being alone.