Review by Taylor Kendal
It would be a lie to say that the title alone of this performance was more than enough to capture my attention and intrigue. After all, Mongolian Death Worm brings its own questions, but adding the words ‘a puppet musical’ to the end? Well, this has to be seen to believed.
The comedy horror film is the brainchild of musician and composer Michael Grant and his housemate James Ure, during the 2020 lockdown in Manchester, UK. Loosely (very loosely) inspired by the myth of the creature living under the sand of the Gobi Desert, Mongolian Death Worm: A Puppet Musical is a 68 minute ride of wackiness, creativity and a little confusion in the best sense that proves to be a pretty unique and engaging adventure.
The audience meets Professor Roy Chapman Andrews (but you can call him Roy Chapman Andrews), who is sent to the depts of Mongolia due to a meat shortage at his university and a lack of his favourite sandwich. He has been tasked with finding and putting an end to the mysterious giant worm that has been terrorising the village by stealing it’s meat supply, and occasionally, people too. Through the journey we meet a cast of characters who range from the odd and eccentric to downright insane, featuring a dim-witted sheriff who yodels, a witch doctor that requires subtitles to understand, and poor Olgoi Corduroy, who never seems to get his moment.
It is quite clear from the beginning that a lot of thought and heart has gone into this production in all elements of its creation. From the creation of the puppets themselves, the set and the music and soundtrack that accompanies it.
The set is comprised of various cardboard cut outs, painted and stuck together, which while at times can seem a little crudely made, adds to the charm and the atmosphere, rather than taking away from it. It is clear that a lot of love has been put into their creation, and that truly must be commended. The transitions between scenes are often very well-orchestrated, and rather seamless in their design within the small staging of the puppet theatre. A personal favourite was during the trek to Mongolia, where a nameless hand appeared to depict the journey on the map – a common trope in tales like this, but added a nice comedic timing.
What I loved most about this performance is that it does not take itself too seriously, and is quite meta in some aspects. The characters at times tend to acknowledge that they are puppets, calling out the fact that they can’t close their eyes or ‘have a wife and three finger puppets to feed!’ which is truly a great addition to the script. While I thoroughly enjoyed watching it, one can only imagine what could really be done with a bit more of a fleshed out script – but then again, that would take away from the brilliant insanity wouldn’t it?
An absolute stand out is the addition of the music. Accompanying the plot are 8 original songs which are very cleverly created in terms of telling the plot and moving the story along, many felt rather reminiscent of Dr. Seuss in a way with their incredible dedication to rhyme. Unfortunately there were times when some of the lyrics were difficult to understand, be it from sound issues or perhaps the characters voices, but it did very little harm at all to the following of the plot. A stand out song had to be at the big reveal, ‘Every Hero Needs A Villain’, and I was particularly fond of the multitude of comparisons of heroes and villains within pop culture.
Mongolian Death Worm: A Puppet Musical is a fun, at times chaotic creation that serves its purpose at wonderful entertainment. Hats off to the creators Michael Grant and James Ure, who so clearly put a lot of time, effort and care into its creation before sending it out into the world. I highly, highly recommend checking the entire production out on Youtube!