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TILL 18 MARCH 2024

12 MARCH, 2024

In 2015, I reviewed Puddles Pity Party at Soho Theatre and since then he's appeared on America’s Got Talent, returning in 2020 for AGT Champions. He's also had a residency at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, and he’s toured extensively around the US, UK and Europe. The moment you meet Puddles, a tall Pierrot clown, standing in the doorway of Soho Theatre upstairs, shaking hands with his audience as we take our seats, something reassuring overtakes you. The sad, silent clown makes this early connection that forges a real bond between him and you; it’s a simple act, but one that has been done with genuine meaning and feeling. 

The structure of Puddles Pity Party is measured, at times subtly, and wildly funny, with Puddles never needing to do anything to solicit or force a reaction from his audience. We’re there to see him and hear him. With some people in the audience coming back to see him, or some caught him on AGT or YouTube, we end up going through the doors, sitting together, eager for it to begin. The smallest of acts, as simple as throwing out tissues into the crowd or trying to move a chair across stage, gains a huge reaction. Nothing is accidental; every step, interaction, and narrative substance within the lyrics of the songs is carefully orchestrated. A performer like Puddles lives for the reaction he is able to get from his audience. 

When you’re watching someone like Puddles, you're watching a born entertainer. This isn’t just a purpose for an artist like Puddles; it's their calling: to make people feel something, to create a connection, to explore his music and his joyously positive performance. It’s fair to say that most of the people in the audience last night know who he is, and it is always a surprise when you hear his voice for the first time. There is a rich, lived, expressiveness that is authentic; it is a voice that has a genuine feeling—the type of feeling that you can't fake. 


The songs Puddles uses do, to some extent, unravel his backstory; perhaps I am reading too much into this. We never know his origins; is he someone who has just turned up, someone you're destined to meet, much like the mystery wanderer in Tom Waits' Come on Up to the House? The playlist ranges from Britney’s Toxic, Billie Eilish’s When the Party’s Over, Sia’s Chandelier, and Lorde's Royals, all songs that are part of Puddles repertoire. But it's the way Puddles interprets these songs that grab you; he offers them new insight, meaning, and mystery, taking his listeners on a journey to discover who he is if we listen carefully. When he’s singing, he creates a moment—a personal moment—between him and you.


You listen to every lyric, and Puddles can sometimes make pop songs like Toxic have substance: “Too high, can't come down. Losing my head, spinnin' 'round and ‘round. Do you feel me now?” The sound of the cello's rich, deep sound provides a depth to the song that isn't normally there. Or “Sometimes, if I shout, it’s not what's intended. These words just came out. With no cross to bear” from When in Rome’s The Promise, its piano ushers in a calming stillness that takes hold of you. Both songs are accompanied by captivating videos, with each short video telling a different funny, touching, and evocative story that beautifully pairs with the substance of the song. Puddles finds the life and feelings within these lyrics and supercharges them with emotion that uplifts the message and perhaps the very meaning of the song. It takes skill to do this, and few can do it well. You have the likes of Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You, Gary Jules' Mad World, and Johnny Cash's Hurt, all artists who gave new meaning to these songs; it's a rare gift.


Kevin Costner, a forever present at the Puddles show, got his own Bondesque Come Cry With Me by Glyn Styler, and he makes a more prominent appearance towards the end of the show with Little Roger and the Goosebumps’ Stairway to Gilligan’s Island. The video used in this section used elements of Costner’s 1995 box office turkey, Waterworld, which worked seamlessly.

Midway through the show Puddles takes us to church, with Bowie’s Space Oddity leading the way. In almost quick succession, but probably not in this exact order, Elvis’ If I Can Dream, Tom Waits’ Come Up To The House, and Nick Cave’s The Ship Song. With each song, one feels the soul crying out to be heard, to be understood, to find and lose its connection. Waits’ writing is exceptional, and with an opening line like “Well, the moon is broken, and the sky is cracked,” one feels the pain, the isolation, and this struggle to be free.


In this part of the show I imagined the audience is transplanted to the Dust Bowl, no longer inside the Soho Theatre on Dean Street but under a white, dust-covered canvas tent, taking part in a sermon, with Puddles never missing a beat, giving his congregation everything, with us in return having full trust and faith in him. Every time he sings “The world is not my home; I’m just passing through,” I can feel my body starting to get that feeling when something hits you so hard emotionally—that tingling feeling overtakes your body. Lyrics came up on the screen instructing us to join in the chorus, and at the end, a man with a white beard and red hat immediately stood up and applauded. 

"Puddles Pity Party is an experience; its also an opportunity to find your own inner self and priorities, and to have one of the unique experiences you could ever want in a theatre."

Whether it’s Space Oddity, Come Up To The HouseThe Ship Song, or Cheap Tricks' I Want You To Love Me, songs are some of the most personal things you can share. To re-mix and re-imagine some of the songs Puddles has worked on takes skill, but they also hold such a personal part of who he is. 


But it would be In the End, written by Andrew Quinn, that left me truly in awe. It is a song that is life; it is playful and funny but filled with so much care, melancholy, love, feeling, and wisdom. It’s a song that makes you sit up, really sit up, and listen to every word and every note. Furthermore, it’s a song that makes you realise that no matter what you’re going through or what life is throwing at you, we are but transient beings in this life and on this planet, which will keep spinning long after we’re gone.

Puddles Pity Party is an experience; it’s also an opportunity to find your own inner self and priorities, and to have one of the unique experiences you could ever want in a theatre. What audiences get is a nuanced, touching, and sincere performance from someone unable to hold back the emotional integrity of their artistry. 

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