One of the best things about being a volunteer at The Wardrobe Theatre in their new home at Old Market Assembly, Bristol is that I get to see a great variety of shows and performances, many of which if I’m being honest, I probably wouldn’t have otherwise seen. Doing this role has not only matured me as an artist, but puts me in the best place possible to be able to tell people when something unmissable comes along.
Such a performance occurred in October. The amazingly talented Corina Bona had brought her Smoking Puppet Cabaret to our stage. The evening was filled with a veritable smorgasbord of twisted puppetry, eclectic sounds and off-beat humour colliding in a cabaret for our pleasure – all presented in association with Puppet Place. The line-up included: Puppets & Pizza, Araceli Cabrera Caceres, Gongoozler, Wondering Hands and Maragrita Sidrokastriti.
The honour of headlining the show went to Wondering Hands. The anticipation and excitement in the air was tangible and people’s faces beamed with smiles, which were destined to remain there throughout the performance. One of the Wondering Hands performers, Alicia Britt, later described the Bristol audience as being the loveliest humans; you could see why she would think that.
After the show, I took the opportunity to chat with Alicia about Wondering Hands. She explained that Wondering Hands was formed when she and Dan met Edie at Curious School of Puppetry‘s weekly Soup Nights early in 2016. “The atmosphere was just so relaxed and inviting. The food and the lectures gave everyone something lovely to talk about that it really didn’t matter who you were talking to. From famous television puppeteers, successful directors or simply fans of puppetry- everyone found something in common at the soup nights. It was just the most welcoming atmosphere.”
They decided they wanted to make politically current and challenging work for everyone from young children, to teens and adults. “We think that puppetry is a medium to be taken seriously and will not shy away from using it in new, exciting ways!” she told me.
She and Dan already knew each other from working at the Royal Opera House. Alicia was working in costume and Dan was as a fully trained armourer, leather and metal worker. She had also trained as a maker at Wimbledon College of Art and has designed puppets for shows in the West End before committing to puppetry performance this year. All three Wondering Hands performers have trained at the esteemed Little Angel Theatre in Islington. So the team have ample experience under their belts and are eager to keep learning as Alicia told me with excitement about her plans to attend the Curious School of Puppetry again in 2017.
Their latest performance, ‘Sex and Puppets’ began at a house party. Alicia was writing a puppetry show about sexual consent and discovered a close friend happened to be reading her masters positive sexual health promotion at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Her friend thought Alicia’s idea to make a puppet show about sex was a brilliant one, so they soon began working together to create a show. The show has since turned into a cabaret bursting with new puppets, concepts and ideas exploring how we talk and learn about sex.
“I’ve been making puppets for ‘Sex and Puppets’ since March this year! Every time we had a new rehearsal there’d be another idea. There’s just so much to talk about with this topic- it’s been so hard to squeeze it all in” she explained. Sex and Puppets’ has all kinds of puppets, from monster puppets, singing vulvas and aliens, to contemporary marionettes, socks, cuddly toys and even pizza boxes. “I just really want adult audiences to see how versatile puppetry can be.”
I felt the performance was both entertaining and informative, so would recommend a visit. ‘Sex and Puppets’ will go to the Newcastle Festival of Puppetry in March with possible shows planned at Camden People’s Theatre in May, Brainchild Festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Smoking Puppet Cabaret at Shambala.
‘Sex and Puppets’ is a fresh take on a topic that isn’t always so easy to discuss. A must-see!
Interview by Stephen B. Watters
Wondering Hands Theatre uses puppetry to explore the issues young people face today. They believe in talking about complicated things with children, seriously complicated things with young people and everything with adults. They want to bridge gaps between generations and encourage communication even when it is difficult. They believe puppetry is the perfect way to start. For more information about the company and their work, visit their website at http://www.wonderinghandstheatre.co.uk or their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/wonderinghands/