What importance does collaboration overseas have for puppetry in the UK?

At first glance, it may seem odd to write about the importance of artists getting together.  So much time is often spent alone in a studio, workshop or at a laptop, involved with the making of this or that project.  And for many, creative enterprise is very much a one-person vehicle, aside from supportive friends and peers, a freelance or small business venture.  Yet, in one way or another, collaboration is prerequisite for the arts sector and creative industries to flourish.  In recent months, the question of how to collaborate overseas has become a hot topic, so below some ideas about the need and value of bringing it all together.

Photo: BFP13

Thoughts about how to stimulate good company and its benefits have been on our minds at Puppet Place for sometime now.  Back in March, we kicked off our ‘Creative Hub’ conversation – an open discussion about the future of puppetry and Puppet Place.  This discussion has not only covered topics about local and international networks, such as best practices and the many benefits beyond resource pooling, but is itself, reflective of positive connections in action around common ground.

Then in June, the EU referendum result set the course for what will surely be given time, an overhaul of the infrastructure underpinning the UK creative sectors and industries.  Now more than ever, it seems appropriate to have those conversations about our relationships; who we work with, who funds us and how.   For some artists, in particular those seeking to work worldwide, there are various concerns:

cp_pull_outGreen Ginger could not have survived four decades of making work aimed at young adult audiences without the international market to work in.  The UK alone offers limited opportunities for companies like ours.  Theatres are still nervous about risk-taking and festivals are few in number and if they can offer bookings it is rarely for more than a single night.  The lack of any post-Brexit road-map is scary for those of us trying to work globally.  Forward planning is necessarily restricted to the short-term whilst the powers that be work out what it will actually mean in terms of free movement of labour and goods. We hope that the current wave of cross-border dialogue between festival producers, artists and enthusiasts will continue to stimulate fresh ideas and possibilities for all concerned.
Chris Pirie, Co-director, Green Ginger, UK.


But possibilities remain open, especially in appreciating collaborative endeavour:

dc_pull_outI’m unsure how Brexit will affect those involved in the Arts. I hope that it will not cause an “economic fear-factor” leading to more conservative programming in theatres around the UK.  I personally hope to find many more collaborators who will bring their diverse skills to the table so that we can create something new – and that we all go from the experience as better artists. It is important to protect traditions, but also to invest in work that is not always obviously commercial or conventional.

It would also be wonderful to see more specialists – puppeteers who focus on one aspect of puppetry, master it and make it their own – so that they can collaborate with other skilled masters to create work.   Drew Colby, Artistic Director, Finger and Thumb Theatre, UK.


Certainly, arts organisations in countries that have opted for a cooler approach toward the EU have managed strong and positive relationships with European and other overseas partners, which have in turn, nourished and enriched their domestic culture and creative industries:

ga_pull_outOur main mission is to develop visual and puppet theatre as a genre in Norway. Interdisciplinary and international collaborations are crucial for such a development. Without international exchange, the visual arts could easily become a traditional and over protected art form – that has a bad smell of old socks.   A wide and vital international network and exchange is the main base in order to obtain artistic development.  Norway has never been a part of the EU, but still there is trade and cultural exchange between EU and Norway.

Being from such a desolated part of Europe, we have experienced that the only way forward is maintaining a close relationship to the artists in the rest of Europe, and maybe even more importantly the rest of the world.  Geir-Ove Andersen, Producer, Figurteatret i Nordland/Nordland Visual Theatre, Norway.


And here in the UK, vital spaces for international exchange remain vibrant and vocal about their pivotal role in supporting widely collaborative creative enterprise:

ka_pull_outThe creative industries in the UK are a significant contributor to GDP and festivals, no matter how small, play an integrated and important role in the promotion and vibrancy of the creative product… It is through an active use of festivals internationally where filmmakers and animators in the UK become known worldwide as producers of noteworthy and high quality films. It would be tragic both culturally and economically if this was damaged in any way. I hope that new ways of collaboration arise and opportunities with other countries open up, whilst we continue to preserve the excellent relations we have worked hard to build over the years with our EU friends.
Kieran Argo, Curator, Encounters Short Film & Animation Festival, UK.


So there is much potential, as we move forward, to continue to develop and enjoy the creative sectors and industries here in the UK. And effective collaboration is key to unlocking that potential, both overseas and among arts organisations here in the UK.  At Puppet Place we will continue with our discussion regarding a collaborative hub and our vision for it and continue to support puppetry in all its forms:

We believe that by talking and listening with each other, we better learn as a society to accept difference and work together to make a better world for all.  Puppetry is a universal artform that communicates across language barriers, cultural, national, generational, political and social divides.  Puppet Place dedicates itself across all its activities to breaking down these barriers and divisions.   

Rachel McNally, Puppet Place Executive Producer, UK.


Article by Emma Windsor

We are opening up the debate about what Puppet Place should be and are working with a Creative Group to focus our thinking. Our Creative Hub Conversation continues into the autumn 2016.  Your thoughts and feedback are most welcome.  Minutes and materials are available on our website:  http://www.puppetplace.org/hub/ 

Puppet Place is your hub for all things animated on stage and film in the UK. We are dedicated to sharing our passion for puppetry and animation with the wider public and supporting artists and professionals working with these artforms.  To find out more about our organisation, our resident artists and associate artist scheme, visit the website at www.puppetplace.org or contact Rachel at rachel@puppetplace.org.


International Encounters: An Interview with Kieran Argo

Kieran Argo is animation programmer for the Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival.  Now in its 22nd year, the festival presents one of the world’s leading international competitions for short film and animation, and official gateway to the world’s most prestigious awards; BAFTAs, European Film Awards and Cartoon d’Or.  We spoke to Kieran about this year’s Animated Encounters programme, whether live-action puppetry might find a place in future programming and why international forums play such an important role in the arts. 

It's Only Natural, Blue Honey, Constance JoliffIt’s Only Natural, Blue Honey, Constance Joliff

The 2016 Animated Encounters programme features a diverse collection of shorts relating to six umbrella subject-matter.  How do you decide upon the themes?

hud_DZphFor the last five years Encounters has been offering themed programmes for a couple of reasons. It was agreed that straightforward programmes with no over-arching feature to them were, well, a bit boring. Many festivals randomly collate their selected films into the given screen slots and this leads to a very diverse and eclectic mix of films. In my experience, programming that has no rhyme nor reason can sometimes lead to audience confusion. By offering a themed programme we are not necessarily preventing confusion but at least indicating some of the themes and topics covered by the films in the programme. It is good to see many other festivals also working their programmes into thematic groups. I think it makes for a more interesting offering to the audience. The great thing is that even with any given theme to a short film programme you will still discover great diversity in styles, techniques and stories.

Themes arise naturally during the end stage of the selection process. Common themes occur every year, for example, loneliness, loss, romance, nature, environment and underpin many of the narratives in the films. It’s simply a question of making notes along the way then revisiting and grouping films once the long process of short-listing has been made. The recurrence of a particular theme within the shortlisted films leads naturally to a theme for the programme.

The criteria for selection has remained constant for many years and it is with the dedicated help of Nigel Davies from Aardman and others over the years that we have maintained a high standard in the selection process. We look for good and outstanding production values in at least one or more areas of the production. At the end of the day (and this applies to narrative work only) it is the story and strength of delivery that counts. The selection process we apply ensures continuity from year to year.

Late Lounge Xxxtra, B., Kai StanickeLate Lounge Xxxtra, B., Kai Stanicke

Other international film festivals have recently featured live action puppetry works in their animation programmes (for example, The 2015 Seattle Film Festival).  Do you think that this is something that Animated Encounters would consider including?

Encounters is always looking for ways to develop and expand and we are constantly discussing ways of improving and changing the festival. This has to be done carefully with an eye to preserving our strengths whilst also developing new and exciting activities.

Live action puppetry has a lot in common with animated film as it also uses the power of a proxy character as a vehicle for the story. Live action puppetry, being in real-time, clearly differentiates from animated film as animation is defined for our purposes as a frame by frame process. I am aware of one puppet film that has played at festivals as an animated film but is clearly been filmed in real-time.

I would love to see greater expansion and inclusion of other art-forms including live action puppetry in Encounters as they would complement each other greatly especially with the many stop-frame puppet animation films that are screened each year. I hope we will be in a position to develop this in the future.

Close Encounters of a Short Kind, Planemo, Veljko PopovicClose Encounters of a Short Kind, Planemo, Veljko Popovic

Encounters is a long-established event that prides itself on being the UK’s leading international short film and animation festival.  What do you think spaces for international exchange such as Encounters bring to animated filmmaking?

Festivals such as Encounters offer a space and platform for filmmakers and audiences that no other activity can rival. It brings people together to exchange ideas, celebrate creative achievements and make new friends and collaborations. There is an amazing international network of festivals for short form and animation where both aspiring and established animators and filmmakers can build and develop their reputations. The chance to see the films where they belong, on a big screen in a great environment is also a key feature of a good festival.

Whilst there have been unprecedented changes in production and distribution over recent years that has led to a plethora of short film production this has only reinforced for me the need for quality opportunities such as Encounters to play its part in the assistance of filmmakers, animators and audiences. We strive to help filmmakers and offer them a space to exhibit, celebrate and discuss their work. It is a well deserved space and one that should be protected. Festivals play a critical role in the life of films and filmmakers especially in the short and animation world and the wider culture in general.

A Look Inside, Ticking Away, Michael Sewnarain.pngA Look Inside, Ticking Away, Michael Sewnarain


The recent EU referendum will bring many changes and opportunities for all organisations involved in the Arts.  What are your hopes for the future?

My hopes are that the cultural and economic role festivals play are not forgotten or sidelined or seen as some kind of cultural luxury where costs can be saved. The creative industries in the UK are a significant contributor to GDP and festivals, no matter how small, play an integrated and important role in the promotion and vibrancy of the creative product, in this case short film and animation.

I also hope that our friends and colleagues overseas continue to look to the UK for collaboration and partnerships and appreciate that the vast majority of creative led people played no part in the ridiculous referendum outcome. My twenty plus years has been underpinned by working with friends and colleagues overseas. It is through an active use of festivals internationally where filmmakers and animators in the UK become known worldwide as producers of noteworthy and high quality films. It would be tragic both culturally and economically if this was damaged in any way. I also hope that new ways of collaboration arise and opportunities with other (non-EU) countries open up, whilst we continue to preserve the excellent relations we have worked hard to build over the years with our EU friends.


Interview by Emma Windsor

This year, Encounters will host a big 40th birthday show-and-tell from the Co-Founders of Aardman.  The festival welcomes back the cutting edge studio Nexus to show their shorts and discuss their latest developments in augmented and virtual reality animation, and the Oscar winning Founder and Creative Director of BreakThru Films, Hugh Welchman, who will discuss the making of the highly anticipated Loving Vincent feature film from his studio in Poland. 

The 2016 festival will run from 20 -25 September at Watershed & Arnolfini, Bristol, UK.  For further information on how to book tickets and passes, see the Encounters website: http://encounters-festival.org.uk/festival-passes-now-on-sale/

All Fingers & Thumbs: An Interview with Drew Colby

As director and founder of Finger and Thumb Theatre, Drew Colby’s work with puppets has evolved over 30 years.  He has performed at many key venues and festivals around the world; including the International Festival of Marionette Art in Prague, Norwich Puppet Theatre  and The Little Angel Theatre. We caught up with him to chat about his latest project ‘Carnival of the Animals’, his experiences of collaborating with artists abroad and his future hopes for the arts in the UK.

Photo: Nir Shaanani

Your latest show ‘Carnival of the Animals’ is based on the suite of fourteen pieces of music by the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns.  What inspired you to produce the work?  How does hand shadow puppetry lend itself to the work?

drew_colbyI wanted to create a performance around this music because it is of great quality – but also accessible. And beautiful. And a bit of a conundrum that needs to be solved. I like the limits imposed by (and possibilities inherent in) using a set piece of music combined with the limits and possibilities of my own technique. Hand shadows are suited to the work because they are capable of quick transformations and portraying a large number of different animals – the challenge being to keep the interest of the audience so the performance doesn’t resemble a mere list of creatures – a “look what else I can do with my hands” show. The Carnival of the Animals was not written specifically for children, yet its moods, characters and small harmonic storylines are entirely accessible to them. And it is great fun. I’ve wanted to do this show for almost twenty years!

Back of Flyer COTA

A focus of Finger and Thumb’s work in Israel was collaboration with local artists. How did this come about and what opportunities and challenges did working with practitioners with a different language, culture and artistic heritage provide?  What do you think spaces for international exchange can bring to puppetry performance?

I was invited to the festival in Israel to perform a family show and an adult show. Ilan Savir, the artistic director, also wanted me to train puppeteers at the puppet centre in Holon. As negotiations for the festival progressed Ilan had the idea to have all the international companies (and some local puppetry students) perform with Israeli diva Shefita for two adult gala concerts. Shefita is an invented character who performs stand-up comedy alongside her cross-over pop / folk music. Ilan also had to find a concert pianist in Israel to work with me. During this time The Carnival of the Animals was being rehearsed in the UK and emerging as a piece which relies on the relationship between the puppeteer and the pianist. I was very fortunate with Ilan’s choice of pianist, Michal Solomon, as she was a quick study .  We had three quarters of a day to rehearse the entire show and then  gave  our first performance.

dc02_pull_outThe theme of Finger and Thumb’s Carnival is about working together – sharing different skills – and bringing those skills together collaboratively to make something incredible. In total we performed four Carnivals and two gala nights with Shefita. Working with both Michal and Shefita was straightforward. There was a humility and willingness from both artists (alongside very good technical and production support from the theatre) that allowed a relationship and creative rapport to easily develop.

One of the ironies for me was that Shefita performs her show mostly in English (for an adult audience) whereas I had to perform my text in Hebrew (so the children could understand). Learning the Hebrew was a challenge! Everybody I worked with spoke good English though, so there were no communication difficulties during rehearsal.

All of my activities in Israel were created with people I was meeting for the first time, in an intensive and focused environment. From the Carnival performances, to the concerts, to the three day workshop I facilitated. Creating the performance with Michal in Israel was a transmogrifying experience. An amelioration. Likewise improvising to Shefita’s song (sung in a language I didn’t understand) was a freeing experience. I left Israel with many new ideas of what to do next with my technique – inspired by the freedom to play and suggestions / dialogue with the workshop participants. Hand shadow work is like an oral tradition – it literally needs to be “handed down”.  Over the years I have learned a bear from a puppeteer in Georgia, a chicken in India and a goat in Uganda.  Students now come to me with screen grabs of some of my videos asking “how do you make this chicken” or “how do you make this bear” and I show them. I think we will see some good hand shadow work coming out of Israel before long!

Donkey by Nir Shaanani 270 Shefita
Photo: Nir Shaanani

The recent EU referendum will bring many changes and opportunities for all organisations involved in the Arts.  What are your hopes for the future?

I’m unsure how Brexit will affect those involved in the Arts. I hope that it will not cause an “economic fear-factor” leading to more conservative programming in theatres around the UK. I personally hope to find many more collaborators who will bring their diverse skills to the table so that we can create something new and that we all go from the experience as better artists. It is important to protect traditions, but also to invest in work that is not always obviously commercial / conventional. It would also be wonderful to see more specialists – puppeteers who focus on one aspect of puppetry, master it and make it their own – so that they can collaborate with other skilled masters to create work.

And I hope there will be more live music in live theatre shows!

by Emma Windsor

Carnival of the Animals: Shadowgrapher: Drew Colby; Pianists: Michal Solomon, Daniel Wallington, Sarah Kershaw and An-ting Chang; Additional direction by Liz and Daniel Lempen; Illustration by Hannah K Broadway. Commissioned by Junction, Goole and funded by the Arts Council.

Tickets are now on sale for the UK premiere of ‘The Carnival of the Animals’ on 17 September 2016 at Junction, Goole, Yorkshire.  Find out more at the Junction website and buy tickets here.  It will also be performed on 27 November 2016 at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Finger and Thumb Theatre create visual shows for family and adult audiences using different combinations of hand shadows, video technology, live and recorded music, storytelling and songs.  Find out more and see tour details on the website.

Peafrog Puppetry: An Interview with Katie Underhay

Puppet Place associate artist Katie Underhay is a designer, maker and performer for theatre.  She is also co-artistic director and founder of Peafrog Puppetry.  She and Anthony Burbridge create compelling and original theatre for audiences of all ages. Peafrog Puppetry undertake private commissions for other artists and performers as well as delivering flexible puppetry workshops to various education establishments and theatre groups.

Katie & Tony Cockatrice 2
Photographer Rosie Mastel

Hi Katie, thanks for taking time out to give us this interview. Can you share with our readers how you came to be doing what it is that you do?

Katie The Boy Who 1

Yes, of course. After initially studying at the Wessex Academy of Performing Arts I started a Musical Theatre degree. I realised that the course wasn’t right for me, and maybe even that career, so I jumped ship to study Theatre Design at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama with the intention of focusing on costume.

At the end of my first year, I played the lead in the college’s puppetry performance called The Boy Who Went Fishing For Compliments which caused me to realise that the combination of design and performance working with puppets gave me, is where I wanted to be as an artist.  Then at the end of my second year I was asked to step in as a last minute replacement for a show going to the Edinburgh Festival. Written and created by Jonathan & Tony Leach, the show was called King Kong the Musical. I had only two days to learn the show before our first preview! It was scary but exciting and it was an amazing, never to be forgotten experience of the festival and a fantastic show. It was also nice to step back into the world of musical theatre.

By the time I reached the end of my third year I was able to submit as my final project – a puppet, murder-mystery musical called Murder at Monishing Manor. I conceived, designed, built the set, wrote the songs and scored the music for a cast of 9 puppeteers and six live musicians. That was when Peafrog Puppetry came into being.

Murder at Moshing 2Photographer Bill Underhay

Wow, that would be the culmination of a lifetimes work for many people. Such a complex and challenging show must have been really demanding. How did you cope with everything?

I loved working on ‘Murder’ but it was hard to do so much alone. It’s easier to cope with things you love doing, but you’re right, it was very demanding. Since graduating I’ve worked on lots of projects with some amazing people, which is so much nicer than going it alone. I am lucky enough to be in 3 Little Pigs with Stuff & Nonsense which I’ve performed 92 times since December 2015, including an amazing 7 week stint at Plymouth Theatre Royal. I’m very much looking forwards to hitting the hundred shows mark in London in October, and then perform the show in Ipswich over the Christmas period.


You have a new show at the moment, ‘The Tale of the Cockatrice’. How’s that going?

Oh, better than we could have hoped. We have just had our ‘world premiere’ at the fantastic Midsummer Dreams Festival in Dartington, Devon and we got some brilliant feedback from audiences and the festival organisers. We are looking to further develop the show and take it on tour in 2017. We have the small hurdle of funding to overcome and will be applying to the Arts Council, as well as asking people to help support and promote our show in any way they can.

Katie Cockatrice 1
Photographer Rosie Mastel

Is there any specific way in which readers of the Puppet Place newsletter might be able to help?

Well if anyone can give us a heads up on festivals or venues which we can include in our tour plans, let us know of any funding opportunities they think we might be eligible for, of just help promote our show on their social media that would be amazing!

One final question, looking back on your last few years experience, what advice would you give your younger self or to others wanting to have the success you have?

Be selective in the things you do for free. It’s a great way to network and the experience can be invaluable but don’t sell yourself short.  Be tenacious and keep applying for things, even if they are not quite what you want or think yourself perfect for. Each application could open the door to other connections and opportunities.If you can’t find someone to employ you, employ yourself! Get a group of people together and create something. I’ve done a lot of that!

Thank you so much Katie, good luck with the show and the tour.


Interview by Stephen Barrie Watters

Peafrog Puppetry create compelling, original theatre with the aid of oddball puppets, live acoustic music and general tom-foolery! Based in the South West of England, they create and design bespoke puppets for stage and screen and run interactive workshops, providing puppetry tuition in theatres, colleges and drama societies for toddlers, teenagers and even grown-ups.  Find out more on the website.


Puppet Place Associate Artist Scheme: Offers a range of benefits to artists including: discounted tickets to all Puppet Place events; reduced rates for rehearsal and fabrication space hire; dedicated training and skills sharing; the latest job/funding information and promotional services via our online network; and a forum to exchange ideas and connect with other artists.  To become a Puppet Place Associate Artist, contact Rachel at  Rachel@puppetplace.org or phone on  0117 929 3593.


Yamasong: March of the Hollows: Behind the Scenes

A sneaky peek clip for forthcoming puppet feature film Yamasong: March of the Hollows from Dark Dunes Productions and executive producers Heather Henson and Toby Froud.  The video gives some juicy behind-the-scenes insights into the puppet filmmaking process. A must-see for lovers of puppetry and practical effects onscreen.  For more information about Yamasong, read our exclusive interview with the film’s director, Sam Koji Hale.

Is Punch and Judy Too Violent for Modern Audiences?

In May, Barry Town Council made a decision to remove a Punch and Judy show from the entertainment line-up for their local festival on the basis that the show’s content was ‘too violent and contained inappropriate hitting’ and that ‘many concerns had been raised about the domestic violence which makes up part of its content.’ It seems that the decision made by Barry Council is not an isolated case, with Bodmin Town Council in Cornwall reportedly making a similar decision in 2004 on the basis of the show’s violence.  

So is Punch and Judy really too violent?  Are decisions to ban shows simply an overreaction on the part of over-zealous bureaucrats or are Mr Punch’s antics no longer relevant to modern audiences in the way they once were?  


Punch and Judy has a rich heritage stretching back to at least the mid 17th century, with a puppet theatre performance featuring a Punch character recorded by the celebrated diarist Samuel Pepys, in England, May 1662.  Pepys was so delighted with the show he returned two weeks later, remarking in his diaries that “Thence to see an Italian puppet play that is within the rayles there, which is very pretty, the best that ever I saw, and a great resort of gallants.”   The popularity of Punch quickly grew and in October of the same year, a performance was held in Bologna in honour of King Charles II.  The king was enchanted with the show, rewarding ‘Signor Bologna, alias Pollicinella’ with a gold chain and medal, a gift worth £25 then, or about £3,000 today.  Punch had hit the big time.

It is clear that both public attitude and legislative control of violent behaviour has changed considerably over the centuries since Punch’s debut (and of course, that’s no bad thing.)  However, does that mean that such historical works are no longer suitable for contemporary audiences?  Should artists revise works to suit modern sensibilities and make them more fit for the current sociopolitical palette?

It does, however, seem unthinkable to suggest that anyone should cast red ink over the works of Shakespeare, for example.  Is it simply a lack of appreciation for Punch and Judy as an artform that leads its content to be considered more morally corrosive than Lady Macbeth’s murderous betrayal or Lago’s abusive treatment of Emilia?  Or is it that, unlike Shakespeare, Punch and Judy failed to reposition itself in the collective consciousness as a cultural staple for the educated classes?  That it remains too faithful to its origins as popular entertainment?  In short, that it is considered too crude?


There is certainly the feeling among some practitioners that Mr Punch is often misunderstood and his role as a satirical figure is lost entirely on some people.  As Glyn Edwards, from the Punch and Judy College of Professors, points out:

Now, we know that Mr. Punch doesn’t lead a blameless existence but then again he is a clown and they aren’t noted for behaving like model citizens. Not on stage anyway. That’s kind of the whole point. They get away with throwing buckets of water over each other, smacking each other in the face with custard pies, falling off ladders, having exploding cars and all the rest of their bag of tricks… Thus Punch and Judy – inflicting as much actual harm on one another on the puppet stage as Jerry Mouse does on Tom Cat in the cartoons – are sent packing from Planet Barry for carrying slapsticks in the pursuit of slapstick comedy.

punch-and-judy-1880As an animator and director of folklore inspired films, I am all too aware of the debate that surrounds cartoon violence and the dismissive attitude toward art forms that are considered popular or ‘lowbrow’.  Works can be unfairly demonised to suit the current political vogue, often to contrary effect.  Glyn continues, “…they are trivializing the very real social ill they are campaigning about. When they run an anti-crime campaign will they ban Robin Hood for glamourising robbery? And to stamp out child neglect will Cinderella have to go?

This can be compounded when works are perceived as being entirely for a children’s audience, which is a general frustration shared across the worlds of puppetry and animation alike.  Rod Burnett, also from the Punch & Judy College of Professors, explains:

The Punch and Judy Show suffers from the misconception that it is a puppet show for children. There are many reasons for this but the main one is that it is a puppet show and therefore it must be for children. Of course it is, but it is also a street show and as such should appeal to everyone in the audience, children and adults alike.  A good show will do this.  Interestingly the complaints about the violence mostly come from adults who see the performance as being solely children’s entertainment. With this view, it will appear stupid and violent and will lack, in their view, the content of moral teaching which they believe children’s entertainment should contain. And so they are offended.

Perhaps for some puppetry practitioners, an erosion of Punch and Judy’s presence in our coastal towns and summer fetes would come as something of a relief, as the association of this most traditional form of puppet theatre with childrens’ entertainment may be burdensome to those who wish to break down those broader public misconceptions.

However, I would prefer to see this challenged through the work and agree with Rod;  “As with any performance the quality of the show will depend on the skill of the performer so there are good and bad performers.  In my opinion, a performer without the understanding of the black humour content will create a performance which will appear aggressive and violent.  A good performer knowing how to use humour on stage, has the ability to make the audience fall about with laughter at the crazy antics of the puppets.

Of course, there will always be those who do not get the joke, who do not see the satire or who hijack the themes inappropriately, but there is also surely some responsibility on practitioners to communicate the craft and context of the work to their audience.  Having celebrated his 350th birthday in 2012, what’s very clear is Mr Punch can still draw a crowd and, in the right hands, his antics can enchant and fascinate audiences today, as much as they did in the past.

By Emma Windsor.

About Glyn Edwards: ‘Prof.’ Glyn Edwards has worked hand in glove with Mr. Punch for over five decades.  He has written books, made a film, curated exhibitions, given lectures, and has been instrumental in educating and promoting the work worldwide.  He is Brighton’s Punch and Judy man and member of The Punch and Judy College of Professors.  Find out more about his work on his website: www.punch-and-judy.com

About Rod Burnett: Rod Burnett began working with Punch and Judy in the late 1970s.  In addition to being a Punch and Judy performer and member of the The Punch and Judy College of Professors, he also runs ‘Storybox Theatre’ a puppet theatre company that creates performances to delight and enthral children and adults.  Find out more about his work on his website: www.storyboxtheatre.co.uk

Strong Lady of Puppetry: An Interview with Tessa Bide

Puppet Place associate artist Tessa Bide is a Bristol-based theatre maker and puppeteer with her own company.  She is also one third of Lady Strong’s Bonfire alongside Tomasin Cuthbert and Liz Hart.  Her innovative theatre productions tell original magical stories that aim to encourage a dialogue between the generations.  She is happiest when on stage…Or by the sea.


Photo © Kai Taylor


Can you tell us a little about yourself?  How did you become involved in puppet theatre?  What is the appeal?

I became involved in puppetry through Stuff and Nonsense theatre company and Niki McCretton, back in 2009. I worked for them for 3 years and trained on the job under Marc Parrett’s direction. I used to dance a lot as a teenager and I find it interesting watching dancers puppeteer because of their understanding of the way bodies move.  I think that enabled me to pick up the skill fairly naturally. I’ve since made three shows of my own, all featuring puppetry: The Tap Dancing Mermaid, Arnold’s Big Adventure and The Melody Makers and I’m working on my fourth A Strange New Space at the moment.

The appeal of puppetry to me is that it is an accessible form of magic. Seeing an inanimate object brought to life in front of your eyes is a form of magic and it’s very satisfying when you can do that for an audience. It also opens so many doors as to what you can do as a storyteller.  Reams of characters can be brought into a story that might have only one performer in it, for example.


Photo © Graham Burke


You collaborate with Liz Hart (Bric a Brac Productions) and Tomasin Cuthbert (Soap Soup Theatre) as ‘Lady Strong’s Bonfire’.  What bought you all together?  What collective interests do you have and what do you want to explore?  What do you feel that you personally bring to the work?

I met Tomasin whilst working for Stuff and Nonsense. In Autumn 2013, she got the three of us together one evening and told us about an idea she had for a new show that she thought we would both be interested in – The Bed. I hadn’t met Liz before but we both got excited about the prospect of making a show collaboratively, having made only solo work in the past. Collectively, we’re all interested in feminism, puppetry, Jungian archetypes and visual theatre. We work very well as a trio because each of us has very different training and specialist skills.  Tomasin trained in design so has an incredible eye for visual composition.  Liz trained at Circomedia so has a brilliant physical vocabulary and I am a storyteller and writer, so I enjoy making narratives and characters. We all bring various other skills and passions.  It all fits together pretty well!


Photo © Graham Burke


Your latest project under development ‘Mummy Monster’ is a site specific piece that will be performed in kitchens.  What led you to consider kitchens as a venue for the work?  What do alternative forums bring to both the work and its audiences?

Lady Strong’s Bonfire has an interest in reaching new audiences and in particular audiences who would not normally go to the theatre. When Liz became a mother, she realised that she was not going to the theatre herself anymore,  so she devised Mummy Monster alongside caring for her children. Inspired by the quiet of the kitchen after the children had gone to bed, the original idea was to perform in her own kitchen at night. After Liz was awarded funding to research and develop the show, we all got on board and contributed to the devising and design process.

Monstering-860x688_Ben Dowden_REV

Photo © Ben Dowden


Mummy Monster is about spending long hours with young children and we targeted audiences who don’t normally go to the theatre and who do spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Using East Bristol as a pilot study, Liz performed work-in-progress in kitchens at Children’s and Community Centres. These spaces are more familiar and welcoming.  There is often a crèche running and many of our audiences gathered there anyway. We used theatre lighting and sound, designed by Chris Menes, to transform the spaces. Liz had to adapt her performances to the different spaces and manage the intensity of the material, depending on the audiences.  This seemed to keep the material really fresh. The shows were an intimate look at parenting and we followed them with discussions about the themes – often sat round the kitchen table.


You have successfully used crowdfunding campaigns to support performance development, such as your current show ‘The Bed’.  What particular opportunities does this source of funding provide puppet theatre?

For us, using crowdfunding enabled us to produce our first show that was experimental and perhaps not as commercial as our work for families. It meant that we could create the work as we wanted it, without jumping through hoops for a funding body. It also generated a lot of interest in the show, through investors and people who shared our campaign.  So when it came to putting it on, we had already built up an eager audience. In terms of what it can offer puppet theatre, it is a useful resource for making work that traditional funding streams might not be interested in or for new companies starting up without a network of contacts who could support a funding application. However it certainly isn’t an easy way to get funds, as I’m sure anyone who’s lead a crowdfunding campaign will testify!

Interview by Emma Windsor

Tessa’s show Arnold’s Big Adventure, is on tour throughout the summer 2016 and her new show A Strange New Space will be going into a ‘Research and Development’ period in Autumn, to tour in Spring/Summer 2017. She is also a children’s author and has recently published her first book, The Tap Dancing Mermaid.  To find out more about Tessa’s shows and workshops, visit her website: http://tessabide.com.

Puppet Place Associate Artist Scheme: Offers a range of benefits to artists including: discounted tickets to all Puppet Place events; reduced rates for rehearsal and fabrication space hire; dedicated training and skills sharing; the latest job/funding information and promotional services via our online network; and a forum to exchange ideas and connect with other artists.  To become a Puppet Place Associate Artist, contact Rachel at  Rachel@puppetplace.org or phone on  0117 929 3593.