Don't take career advice from a pigeon. That's the main message I've carried away from The Looker, a show which – I'm not ashamed to admit – I simply didn’t understand. Blending live actors, puppetry, and mask work, it's heavy on striking images but vexingly light on meaning.
In brief: a woman called Vera hates her job in a call centre. Occasionally, she phones her own voicemail and leaves messages for herself; one day, her future self calls her back. But that intriguing concept is promptly forgotten, as Vera has a chat with a pigeon, before walking out on the call centre and starting a more rewarding career scavenging on a rubbish dump. There she meets a trio of late-night radio hosts and a man who stuffs fruit down his trousers, and it ends… well actually, I'm not entirely sure how it ends, except that it involves the pigeon again.
The puppetry is graceful, and the acting's skilful too, but I just can't get past the fact that none of it made any sense to me. The only obvious moral comes from a dark song in the middle – which appears to imply that if you don't have children, then you're destined for the rubbish-dump of life. I can only assume this is in some way ironic, but I'd given up trying to find hidden meanings by then.
It's billed in the programme as being suitable for ages 8 and up, and the children present in the audience did seem transfixed by the visual spectacle. But the language isn't always age-appropriate; there's a realistic cremation scene which could, in some circumstances, be distressing, and one or two parents may have found themselves having to explain exactly what "impotence" means.
Along the way, however, there were some concepts that genuinely tickled me. One scene involves three actors wearing sheep's heads, waving fruit in what may or may not be a suggestive manner; when I figured out just what this vignette actually represented, I felt a precious moment of pure delight. There are many such rewarding visual gags, and a neat gimmick where a puppet character transcends her previous life to be replaced by a human. And there's more serious satire too – particularly around an overly-intrusive job interview parodying government back-to-work schemes.
But those moments of lucidity were few and far between. I'm not sure if I've missed the point entirely, or if utter befuddlement is the point of it all, but for me The Looker was a deeply frustrating experience. There's too much plot for me to embrace it as surrealism or absurdism, but too little for me to actually understand. If you know what it was about, please write in and tell me; I genuinely wish I knew.