All posts by joshie12

The Phoenix Rises! The Pickup of Puppetry Post Pandemic

A tantalising handful of exciting puppetry that is gearing up for the post lockdown world!

With people’s hopes pinned on theatres, venues, and events opening up this summer, many artists are gearing up to produce some dynamic new work for what promises to be a veritable cornucopia of creativity! We spoke to a colourful collection of companies, all of who are all planning their puppetry resurgence – from opera and science to festivals and flying dragons!

First I spoke to Sue Buckmaster at Theatre-Rites who have had a real ‘stop start’ of a year, but despite the set backs, and having turned much of their work digital, have managed to plow ahead with some exciting live projects for 2021.

RobotBoy by Theatre-Rites

Sue Buckmaster: Myself and the team at Theatre-Rites have had a busy Covid year.

First, our performance of RobotBoy at Bochum Schauspeilhaus, Germany, had to stop performing. It had performed to over 18, 000 young people, but was meant to continue. Therefore we made and edited a film version that is now doing a digital tour. The next showings are part of Animation Puppet Festival 2021 and The Croucher Science Week, Hong Kong.

My production with Akram Khan Company of Chotto Xenos had performed six times and then stopped. It has since had a stop/start world tour depending on the situation in each hosting country. Performances went ahead in Paris and Barcelona, but most have been delayed until later this year. 

The Theatre-Rites second planned tour of BigUp was turned into a digital sharing. The company were meant to offer employment for a 9 week tour. Instead they employed the team, who all offered an online series of events called BigUp at Home.

In the summer we created Talking Rubbish, an online performance for the Spark Festival. I also created two online Masterclasses on Puppet Whispering and Creating Site-Specific work. Liam Jarvis and myself finished writing the Book  ‘Animating Puppets, Objects and Sites’ and that will be available from Routledge Books in Summer 2021 as part of celebrating our 25th Birthday year. 

We have been auditioning, researching, and developing our new show using Zoom. This will be announced in April and will take place in July 2021.

We have also been developing a new collaboration with the Burg Theatre, Vienna. This will go into production Winter 2021 and will be a celebration, remembrance, and an understanding of Nature in light of our overuse of plastic. 

We are determined to keep art available for our young audiences and provide support for a sector which has been so badly hit by the pandemic.

I managed to catch up with Bristol’s very own Chris Pirie at Green Ginger who are partnering with The Royal Academy of Engineering and University of Bath, to develop an interactive STEM-focussed (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) performance experience for Key Stage 2 (KS2) pupils in Bristol, Bath, and the South West, called – RATLab.

Green Ginger’s RATLab 2021

Chris Pirie: Covid-safe performances of RATLab will be presented within a bespoke inflatable dome that is installed in school playgrounds in the Autumn Term 2021 and Spring Term 2022. The performance challenges and disrupts conventional narratives around STEM and uses innovative theatre techniques to reframe engineering as:

• Creative, exciting, and able to improve the quality of life.

• An option for those interested in the arts and sports, not just science.

• More diverse than publicly perceived.

The partnership project aims to inspire creative public engagement, raise awareness of engineering’s diversity and impact, and engage with those underrepresented in the field. RATLab confronts the negative assumptions around STEM that are commonly held by KS2/3 pupils. Recent RAE research shows that rapid child development around 7 years – as pupils move from KS1 into KS2 – affects how perceptions of STEM subjects form. It also highlights how these assumptions inform decision-making later on, in relation to GCSE/A Level and eventual career pathways. RATLab is an exciting intervention, designed to disrupt misconceptions before they take root in young, developing minds. 

Engineering research at UB has profoundly changed everyday life and this project celebrates these achievements, using GG’s puppetry and storytelling expertise to demonstrate how applied engineering positively influences our lives. The narrative content focusses UB’s work in developing new techniques and materials for joint replacement and research into sports injury that led to fundamental changes to the way rugby is played globally. Additionally, pupils will benefit from a learning experience in an innovative learning environment, away from everyday classroom activities.

I then spoke to Kerrin Tatman from Moving Parts in Newcastle who is delighted to have received funding for the 2021 Newcastle Puppet Festival!


Newcastle Puppet Festival 2021

Kerrin Tatman: It’s going to be different. It’s going to be safe, but spectacular. It’s going to be both live and online. It’s going to be in summer.

Normally the festival fills Newcastle’s venues and streets with puppetry performances and masterclasses from all around the UK and Europe. This won’t be possible this year for obvious reasons, but that isn’t to say that the 2021 event will be any less ambitious than usual. The main focus for 2021 will be a specially-commissioned, socially-distanced outdoor theatre spectacle that will be watched live and online by thousands of audience members. We are really excited about this – it is a big step for us and is moving into brand new territory. It will be bold, beautiful, and will transform one of Newcastle’s largely-unused public spaces into a puppet fantasy.

In addition to this, there will be a programme of talks, workshops, and small-scale performances taking place online over a month to sink your teeth into. A huge thank you to Arts Council England and our other funders for making this all possible.

More details to be announced very soon! Sign up to our mailing list to stay in the loop:

Big Boys Don’t Cry
Image design: Onela Keal 

Opposable Thumb Theatre are ecstatic and relieved to have just received match funding from Arts Council England towards making their new show ‘Big Boys Don’t Cry’. So, along with this and funding from Nordland Visual Theatre in Norway, plus support from The London Mime Festival, rehearsals can begin in mid-April.

They were originally flying out to Stamsund, on the Lofoten Islands to create the show, but due to quarantine restrictions they will be making it in Bristol. Dik is currently making puppets and props at Puppet Place and reliving his childhood dream of buying loads of Action Man in the hope that he can smuggle them into the storyline somehow.

‘Big Boys Don’t Cry’, intends to dissect the emotional complexities of being a father and losing one, in a riotous and euphoric explosion of colour, dance, clown, and puppets, or something like that!

Photo: Paul Blakemore

Tessa Bide is powerhouse of creativity! Here are her thoughts on the last year and her news for what is next…

Tessa Bide: After a real rollercoaster of a year full of some bleak lows but also some surprising, exciting highs, I entered my first R&D in over 2.5 years in February. Six years ago I wrote a story called ‘The Magic Snow Globe’ for a Christmas show commission and it’s sat on my hard drive since. It centres on a relationship between a girl and her grandma, and the girl’s journey to find snow, so we built an intergenerational R&D to support the project.

I lead outreach between a local group of elders, ‘Monday Club’ at BS3 Community Centre and year 5 students from Headley Park Primary. What I hadn’t expected, but what our partner Wyldwood Arts had guided us towards, was that soon, the intergenerational element became much more interesting than the classic adventure story with echoes of The Wizard of Oz.

The ten day R&D, working with a team of new collaborators I’d never worked with before, took a really interesting direction. It quickly became clear that making work this side of the pandemic is a very different experience. Artists so often serve to hold a mirror to society and reflect what needs to be celebrated, changed, or thrown away, and also to bring people together. This year has been so huge, we all felt we couldn’t ignore that in what we made. Very early on, we decided to ‘park’ the version of the show that would tour to studio theatres, and instead started workshopping community shows, a show on a beach, a show in a train carriage, shadow puppetry shows on windows of care homes…

This last year has made puppeteers and theatre makers rethink how and where they present their work, and at the moment, studio theatres don’t seem very relevant or, perhaps, exciting. Of course I’m sure they will be again, and I will always love performing on a stage, but at the moment, I think we’re in an exciting time where theatre and puppetry is getting to the masses in perhaps a more egalitarian way… bypassing some of the traditional gatekeepers.

What emerged from the R&D was a lot of learning about the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of good intergenerational, participatory work, and six shows that we want to make! Some centre around puppetry, after all we were working with gorgeous maquettes and shadow puppets from Isabel Lyster, but some don’t. Now we start the next step of talking to people about them and seeing which ones leave a mark and which ones don’t.

Over the next six months we are also digitally touring our co-production with Soap Soup Theatre, The Selfish Giant, via the Puppet Animation Festival and several other venues; and The Anarchist’s Mobile Library – both in its new digital audio/BSL format and, fingers crossed, live, in-person gigs this Summer around my neighbourhood in Filwood thanks to an Originators Fund grant from Bristol City Council. We’re still here, we’ve made it through, and we’ve done a lot of learning. Bring it on. 

Lastly, there is the awe inspiring ‘The Hatchling’ due to take flight 14-15 August 2021.

This summer, theatre-makers Trigger will stage The Hatchling, an extraordinary free outdoor performance featuring the world’s first flying puppet.

A dragon taller than a double-decker bus will hatch and roam through Plymouth, inviting the public to accompany her on her journey. On Sunday at sunset, The Hatchling will transform into a kite with a 20m wingspan and soar over the coast in a unique feat of artistry and engineering.

The Hatchling’s creative team includes puppetry expert Mervyn Millar, who was part of the original War Horse team, and Carl Robertshaw, a designer for the London 2012 Olympic Ceremonies and a five-time sport kite world champion.

Visit for the latest updates. There will be an article coming in our next issue taking a closer look at the team behind this project.

In conclusion, I take huge inspiration from those who have fought against all odds to keep things going and do what artists do best, which is to adapt, adjust, and accommodate to any obstacles that are put in their way. It appears that in some cases these obstacles only serve to make both people’s work and their resolve to keep creating even stronger!

All hail to the ‘Puppetry Phoenix’ as it rises from the ashes of the pandemic!

Interviews by Josh Elwell

Walk to the heart of Amal! Interview with Rachel Leonard

Part 1 – The Journey Begins

Josh Elwell talked to Puppeteer Rachel Leonard ahead of this extraordinary and epic journey across Europe at such a pivotal time.

I caught up with Rachel Leonard on board her 125 year old narrow boat (which you can find listed in the National Historic Ships Register) on the edge of Bath. We spoke just as she was about to go into a week of R&D for a new project, with the team behind Little Angel’s The Journey Home.

Rachel Leonard.

Rachel has been performing with puppets for nearly 30 years, having learnt her trade at Little Angel and The Puppet Theatre Barge. She works with many exciting companies, from Handspring and Little Angel to the National Theatre, the RSC, and Kneehigh. However, like so many other performers she has felt the effects of the last year with all its huge challenges.

We began by talking about ‘resilience’ and ways that freelance puppeteers have managed to negotiate these crazy times. One of Rachel’s survival techniques is ‘living small’. She lives on her boat and keeps her outgoings to a minimum. She believes this lifestyle affords her a huge amount of independence. Living this way enables her to be a little more selective than most, and to be able to engage with projects that have real meaning for her. It is one such project that drew me to want to talk to Rachel in the first place.

Amal – ‘The Walk’ 2020.

Some of you may have caught sight on social media of an extraordinary giant puppet girl called, Amal. Amal is the focal point for a project called The Walk, the epic journey of a 9 year old refugee girl travelling 8,000km across Europe to find her mother. 

Amal – ‘The Walk’ 2020.

Little Amal will start her journey at the Syria/Turkey boarder in July this year and make her way through Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, and France, before reaching the United Kingdom in November. Amal has a hugely important purpose – to shine light on the struggles of the many refugee children she represents.

Route of ‘The Walk’ in 2021.

Along the way cities, towns, and villages will welcome Little Amal with art – from major street parades and city-wide performances of music, dance, and theatre, to intimate community events. Little Amal will connect with young people from refugee and non-refugee communities through creative learning projects, developed specifically for each location. 

Amal – ‘The Walk’ 2020.

The Walk is being produced by Good Chance Theatre, famous for their work in The Jungle in Calais. Good Chance have joined forces with Handspring Puppet Company to design and build Amal, and Rachel is one of the puppeteers who will be animating Amal in this hugely exciting and important project.

Rachel was fizzing with excitement about Amal and said that she feels it is perhaps  one of the most important projects that she has ever been a part of. Involved in the development of the The Walk from early on in Amal’s creation, Rachel will be one of the international team of puppeteers operating her from inside and out.

The team will rotate; taking turns working her arms and supporting her back (with rods, from the ground) and working from within the puppet, at Amal’s ‘heart’. The heart position is the most complex; requiring the wearing of stilts to create her legs, and a backpack harness to take the weight of the puppet. The operator in this position is controlling her head and facial expression from a ‘harp-like’ construction of pulleys in her tummy. Mechanisms have been kept low-fi to be as robust and repairable as possible along the route.

There is however just one electronic feature; her eyeballs, which are powered by a small battery pack and operated by a mini-thumb control. As it is not possible to see her face from within the puppet, attitudes and facial expressions must be learnt by muscle memory and through prompts given by other members of the team who can feedback instructions. Due to the tricky nature of this role and the heat that builds up with the exertion of it, the puppeteers will only do short stints inside the puppet. Rachel hopes that, with practice, they will get the changeovers, “Slick, like a pit stop!”

Amal – ‘The Walk’ 2020.

Rachel says, “She is magnificent as she walks through the landscape. You cannot help but feel for her. Despite her being 3.5 metres tall, children call to her, look after and care for her. She is both charming, mesmerising, and moving.”

Amal will walk into many different events on her 3 month journey. Each event will form important stages of her emotional development. Each meeting, gathering, sharing, celebration or carnival will serve as an important part of her overall journey and story. In her wake she will leave a legacy of sponsorship and scholarships for educational opportunities. Each event and stopping point in Amal’s journey will provide a catalyst for change and an opportunity to understand the plight of children just like her.

Amal – ‘The Walk’ 2020.

The project has been set back due to Covid and of course everyone is desperately hoping that this won’t happen again. However, Rachel remains hugely positive. She has agreed to talk to us again during The Walk, and then again once she has reached Manchester in November. In the meantime, Rachel’s bags are packed and the 8,000km road between Turkey and the UK awaits her and Amal’s footsteps.

‘May the road rise up to meet you and may the wind
be always at your back!’ – Traditional Irish Blessing

Good Chance needs your support to help make The Walk happen. The Walk‘s Step Up appeal is raising funds to support Little Amal‘s journey, the artistic and education programmes of The Walk, and the crucial work being done to raise awareness of the refugee crisis and advocate for young refugees to have access to an education.

Every young refugee deserves a Good Chance of fulfilling their potential.

Follow and learn more about Amal and The Walk.

And support via

Interviewed by Josh Elwell

Puppets at the Pop-Up Palladium! An Interview with Emily Morus-Jones

Josh Elwell talks to Emily Morus-Jones, the creator and curator of Puppets at the Pop-Up Palladium – an extraordinary online live puppetry variety/magazine show with illustrious guests and performances, produced from Emily’s home in Wales.

 Where did you first conceive the idea of ‘Puppets at the Pop-Up Palladiumand what were the steps that you took in order to start the ball rolling?

The idea came about through watching the success of an old friend of mine who is a successful Welsh Comedian, move her gigs online during the first wave of lockdown.  The online gigs that she organised were helping performers twofold by both providing them with some paid work and the opportunity to have a gig to prepare and perform at, i.e. do what they do at a time when there was no work, which helps with your mental health as a performer in addition to the financial benefits.  It was also making audiences aware of the comedians’ plight where, because of the pandemic, they were staring down the barrel of a year of no work but still had to negotiate the cost of living.  I thought, if it can work for comedy, then why not puppetry?

To get the ball rolling and make this idea happen I needed an amount of capital to invest in the creating the necessary infrastructure, which having been fresh from finishing the course at the Curious School Of Puppetry in Falmouth, I simply did not have.  In the time of a pandemic where performers, puppeteers and freelancers working in the entertainment industry had seen their livelihoods stripped away by the lockdown restrictions, I did not want to be another person asking them to work for free (a particularly weird phenomenon in my opinion.) So I relegated the idea to that of a pipe dream and went about supporting my family in Wales. 

It was then that the Welsh Arts Council announced that they were offering Stability Fund for individuals impacted by the pandemic. I met he criteria because I had rinsed all my savings in studying, finishing just in time to lockdown and was supporting my Mum who has an auto-immune disease. This meant I could not seek work without being a risk to her, so I applied and much to my shock and surprise, was granted the funds that I was asking for.

In this bizarre time where theatres are closed and live performance is having to adapt and adjust to completely new ways of working, you have attempted to do something entirely new. An online live puppet variety show may not have happened before! What have been the main challenges? Also what do you feel are the main things that you have learned or gained from the project?

There have been so many challenges on this project!  First of all I am incredibly lucky to have received support from the girls behind Cardiff Animation Festival – Lauren Orme and Ellys Donovan in particular – without whom I just wouldn’t have been able to do it because the complexities of orchestrating this kind of event over Zoom would have been a nightmare to learn alongside everything else I was doing.

The main challenge I have encountered has been the volume of work, which I had never done before. It felt like with every hoop I managed to jump through to get the show going, another layer of work to do was added.  It started with writing a funding proposal (which I had never done before), getting the funding (which I had never done before ), emailing all the acts to say you’ve got the funding, then finding freelancers to help you make press materials and the necessary digital infrastructure (which I had never done before.) 

Once I’d done all that, I had to find a publicist and go about publicising everything (which I hadn’t done before) until we were ready to launch where you get a momentary sigh of relief. But then you have the mammoth task of generating enough ticket sales to keep the event going, paying everyone and chasing up publicity and acts for the next shows (which was also completely new.) This was all before I had even began to consider my own performance!  There’s a reason roles like Producer, Director, Performer, Set Builder, Writer, and Production Manager are separate and I’ve certainly found a new respect for the people working in them!

All that aside, I think the biggest challenge has been finding our audience.  This project, like a lot of my work, has been experimental.  The key difference I have found between puppetry and comedy is that there already exists a great deal of infrastructure out there for comedy. So you have well established localised and national comedy circuits, TV comedy panel shows etc and a strong following, which is something we don’t have anything like for puppetry.  

Puppeteers are often hidden, and like animators, you seldom know who is behind a piece of work with perhaps the exception of the Muppeteers and a few key Directors/Performers. So there is no huge following that you can easily tap into like there is in comedy. There is no established circuit of watching puppet-specific entertainment for an adult audience. It is usually tied in as part of a theatre show for example, or thought of as being something that is specifically for kids with a few notable exceptions.

Finding our audience was made even harder by the second part of the goal of this project, which was to try to platform puppetry from across the entire spectrum of what is an incredibly broad art form. Often people associate puppetry with Henson’s style muppetry, Punch & Judy, or Warhorse, which is great but there is a lot more out there that often gets forgotten.  As everyone had lost their incomes, I thought it was only right that I try to build a platform for everyone so that audiences could learn about them.

Add to this the newness of working online where we had to figure out an entirely new format to see if we could make it work for puppetry. This also begged the question, would audiences be up for paying to watch entertainment over Zoom and how do we make Zoom work for all the different types of puppetry out there?  It’s not just a matter of worrying about what a stand-up comedian is going to say but rather thinking about and trying to pre-empt as best you can, all the bonkers technicalities that each type of puppetry brings with it.  For instance, an online performance of shadow puppetry requires a completely different set of technical requirements to a muppet style performance. How do we work with performers to show them off in the best light? 

Finally, creating a puppet character in Ddraig has been enormously challenging for me.  First of all having the confidence to do it in the first place felt like a pretty huge barrier!  After getting the go ahead from the Welsh Arts Council I did go into a state of shock for a while and was questioning if I was capable of pulling this off.  I have been puppeteering for 4 years and usually puppeteers spend a number of years working as an assistant. I was thrown in the deep end from the get-go, which has some advantages but means I still have a lot to learn.  I’m sure you can appreciate that platforming myself alongside puppeteers like Laura Bacon who’s been doing Patsy May for a decade, or Andy Heath doing Nelson the Fox and puppeteering for over 20 years professionally, or Ronnie Le Drew who’s been doing Zippy since before I was born was a teensy weensy bit daunting!  

These characters take a very long time to really form and while I think Ddraig has progressed a lot, she still has a fair way to go.  It has also been very challenging doing this type of puppetry live. So in addition to having a new puppet, trying to work out a new character, doing a new role in hosting, there was the added challenge of doing it all live.  I have come into puppetry through TV puppetry, so ordinarily I would be doing a couple of lines/actions for a single take lasting a few minutes, then cut, repeat if necessary. Then whoever is editing would pick the best one. For this there is no second take or chance to get it right. You are puppeteering for over an hour with a few breaks – it’s a very different beast.

In terms of what I have learned – well there’s just so much.  I think I can say I am a more confident puppeteer with a much better understanding of what goes into making any kind of show, and the costs and time involved in putting them together.  I have learnt loads about publicity, marketing, pitch writing, material writing, hosting, time and money management/budgeting. Actually I think the biggest thing this project has given me is the confidence in my own instincts. It has taught me to be more assertive.  It has also been really fascinating learning from other puppeteers and see how different people approach making new work.

You have had some highly illustrious guests from Handspring to Zippy! How did you go about curating the project and how easy was it to get people on board?

In my view, one of the key tenets of working in puppetry is to be an ambassador for it as much as you can. There are so many pre-conceptions about it being just for kids.  So when I set out to write the funding proposal, I knew that I wanted the event to be a positive part of the industry in promoting puppetry to new audiences.  I am very fortunate that, as someone who is relatively new to the industry, I am pretty well connected. So I sought the advice from many of my colleagues who have a wealth of experience as puppeteers before I even wrote the funding proposal to find out whether or not they thought it was a good idea. Curious and Talk To The Hand Puppets were an amazing source of encouragement in particular.  Many of them even wrote me a letter of support, which was very heartening.  

The key idea of this event was to use the more well-known puppets, puppeteers and puppet companies as a draw to help the lesser known, up-and-coming puppeteers platform themselves to new audiences.  There was no point in using the funding grant to pay only the performers who were already well-established and likely to be struggling less. But we did need their help to publicise each show and give audiences taking a punt on the event the security that there would be something that was a known quantity there for them.

Getting people on board wasn’t very difficult because everyone was feeling the affects of the pandemic. They weren’t busy and could see that many performers were struggling. They were up for helping in any way they could, which actually has been one of the most heart-warming and exciting  aspects of running the event for me. Having some really high quality acts get on board because they want to help others that they don’t even know through these dark times.

There’s a huge amount going on in one show! Perhaps you could also say a bit about how it all works technically? Also, how does it feel to be performing a live show from your own home?

Well we have been learning with each show we do. The truth is that we never really know how it’s going to turn out until we do it, partly because of the tight turnovers on each show which leave barely any rehearsal time, and partly because that is the nature of both live performance and technology!

Ellys is really the queen of the technical running of the show and I genuinely have no idea how she does it. Perhaps one day when I eventually get to meet her in person I’ll find out!  

Certainly from my side I try my best to work with each performer to see how we can best work with their act online. Everyone has to be having fun first and foremost, so it’s been a balancing act between needing to be decisive and guide them based on my experience of what worked in previous shows against what they want to do.  I then try and put each piece into an order that flows best. It’s like trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together where each of the pieces comes from a different puzzle and then trying to make an interesting picture out of it.

Performing at home has been advantageous for everyone in that you don’t have to go anywhere to do it. There is an ease in the fact that all you have to do is log in, rather than take a set and suitcase with you.  It has also been extremely challenging as I didn’t really envision having to move back in with my parents in my 30s. Whilst they are supportive and have allowed me to commandeer their spare room and turn it into a theatre, I don’t think they really understand it. So I feel very isolated in doing this a lot of the time.  Finally, when I finish a show I’m on a bit of an adrenaline high from the day of rehearsals and all the work leading up to it, but then I switch my computer off and I’m suddenly just sat in the spare room on my own again. It is just a very odd feeling that I still haven’t got used to.

Restrictions seem to be set to continue. How do you think that live performance may be able to move forward from here? Do you have any plans to continue or evolve in anyway?

It has been really interesting to watch how different people have adapted their work to the new reality and I think the truth is that the people who are really serious about their art will always continue to do that.  I think everyone is looking forward to next year with a hopeful return to some sort of normality but that said, I really hope people continue to experiment with their work.  

Someone said to me recently that as artists we are always working against limitations and part of the reason that we work with puppets is that they are very limiting in many ways in comparison to working with an actor for example.  If you reduce down the way you think about lockdown restrictions to just a new and challenging limitation to be played with, then it becomes far less depressing.  Certainly from my experience of the Pop-Up Palladium some of the positives we have encountered have been that it has provided live entertainment to people who would not be able to go to a theatre because of social anxiety or because someone in their family is autistic.  Similarly the YouTube recording of each performance has meant that people have been able to revisit stuff and watch from across the world ( we have a very loyal following from across the globe.) So I think there is a future for online entertainment and I’m intrigued to see where it goes from here.

In terms of the Palladium, we are constantly evolving and figuring out what works.  We plan to take a break for the time being because I for one need my life back for a bit!  That said, we are looking to do a Christmas show sometime in December.   I will continue collaborating with Ellys and Cardiff Animation Festival so who knows what next year may bring.

Interview with Josh Elwell

Keep up-to-date with events at the Pop-Up Palladium by visiting the website:, and connecting to the Facebook page.

What will come of all this?!

Josh Elwell takes a look at some of the work that has been created during lockdown and reflects on ‘where are we at?’ in a year that has meant huge changes for puppeteers.

There is no doubt that, like many art forms within the live arts sector, puppetry and puppeteers have taken a huge hit this year. Theatres have closed, tours have been cancelled, projects have been dropped and artists are struggling. After months of uncertainty and a new lockdown in place, there is much concern about the future of live performance.

I think we can all agree that it has been a challenging time for us puppeteers. However, there has been a huge amount of creativity bubbling out of the struggle. It seems that there is some truth in restriction providing artists with something to kick against and take inspiration from. This of course does not take away from the very real need for us to earn a living and to find new ways to monetise our work within a completely new landscape. There are those who have found this all really hard and continue to do so, and this is entirely understandable given the circumstances.

It is my hope that by drawing attention to and celebrating some of the incredible creative work that has started to surface out of the thick Covid mist, it may inspire us all to take new brave steps towards breaking new ground.

Over the last 6 months there have been some weird, wonderful and outright trailblazing work going on within the puppet community. Here are a few of these projects that have crossed my radar. Please let us know at Puppet Place if you hear of any more or you yourself are in the process of working on something.

‘I Want My Hat Back’. Directed by Ian Nicholson, Little Angel Theatre

One of the first puppet pieces to appear online during the first lockdown was a live performance of Jon Klassen’s picture book ‘I Want My Hat Back’. Little Angel Theatre partnered with theatre director Ian Nicholson to stream a live performance. The show was broadcast on Little Angel Theatre’s YouTube channel during Easter earlier this year. Nicholson directed and performed the show from home, with a delightful set by Samuel Wilde and music by Jim Whitcher. 

This show paved the way for a whole program of work commissioned by Little Angel and presented by a talented cohort of associated artists. This ranges from a charming tale of ‘Little Fish’ told by Kneehigh’s Mike Shepherd to a compelling telling of ‘Rumplestiltskin’ by Arran Glass. If you go now to Little Angel Theatre’s YouTube channel you will find a superb array of performance, storytelling and creative ideas.

Then Norwich Puppet Theatre decided to create their own Online Puppet Theatre YouTube channel…

Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts, Norwich Puppet Theatre

NPT have commissioned some of the top names in touring British Puppetry to present a series of brand new performances of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts poems.

Each mini-show has beed created and performed by a different artist or company working in lockdown, using Roald Dahl’s original words and lots of different styles of puppetry. These vary from animation to marionettes and everything in-between.

There is a hilarious rendition of Cinderella by Mark Mander and Clementine the living doll (who we have previously spoken to.) This is as engaging for adults as children. Just as beguiling is the true story of Goldilocks created and performed by Nik Palmer & Sarah Rowland-Barker of Noisy Oyster, performed on a miniature set with rod marionettes. There are many more and they are all well worth a watch for free on the NPT YouTube Channel.

Another company that has put together some impressive online output is Theatre Rites. They have adapted two of their productions for YouTube and have made a hybrid children’s TV/theatre series with their show ‘Talking Rubbish’. These are two short films created during lockdown inspired by rubbish and recycling. 

‘Big Up’ Theatre-Rites

They have also put together a big collection of very short films based on their show ‘Big Up’. ‘Big Up – at Home’ is aimed at little people who want to be Big and Big people who might just have forgotten how to play. They’ve been adding content weekly so you can check in for more beatboxing, puppetry and music that you can create at home.

With Beverly Puppet Festival going online earlier this year, many small companies like Garlic Theatre, Hand to Mouth, Moth and Indigo Moon were cajoled into creating work in a new way. You can still check them out on the Festival website

Beverley Puppet Festival Flyer

Many other festivals have also gone online and offered artists the opportunity to present work in a new way. I was asked to produce a short film for Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Festival that introduced various different puppet styles as well as sharing how to make a puppet at home.

One extraordinary project that has striven to break new ground with its live puppet variety/magazine show is Puppets at the Pop Up Palladium. We have a separate interview with them in this issue. Check it out.

These are just a few examples of what people have been up to during this crazy year. In some cases having to create work for an audience online has made work widely accessible to a much bigger audience. 

Whilst there has been a willingness of the Arts Council to support artists in adapting their work to the climate, the longer term question of where all this is leading us is yet to be fully answered. Is the answer in charging audiences to access live performance online? Are there more ways, yet undiscovered, that artists and puppeteers can adapt their work in a way that will sustain them? One thing is certain – creativity is clearly alive and kicking and artists are continuing to producing outstanding work. Please let us know what you are up to!

Article by Josh Elwell

Puppeteers Wanted! ‘The Bristol 48 Hour Puppet Film Challenge’ Needs You!!!


With the lockdown bringing the live performance industry to its knees, many artists are turning to online platforms and film making. The ‘Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge’ has already received registrations from some of Bristol’s most exciting talent as well as from Scandinavia and the United States. This is a wonderful opportunity for creatives of any age or level of experience to jump in and trust their creative responses. Puppet Place talked to resident artist, Cat Rock, who is curating this exciting online event.


How did the ‘The Bristol 48 Hour Puppet Film Challenge’ come about? I understand that you may have had some success in entering this kind of challenge yourself?

‘The Bristol 48 Hour Puppet Film Challenge’ came about after myself and my house mates took part in the LA Puppetry Guild’s 48 hour film project. This was in the height of the lockdown in May.  As a household we had all lost work and for the first time found ourselves free to enter the challenge. Izzy Bristow is a member of the Rocky Mountain Puppetry Guild and she got us involved.

We got to work, hardly slept and produced our very first puppet film in 48 hours called “Belly”. We received an honourable mention,  and were awarded ‘Best of the Rocky Mountain Puppetry Guild Entrants’.  We had a great weekend building weird things with lot of cardboard.  After it was all done, I thought that this was the kind of event we should be running here in Bristol. I’m a resident artist at Puppet Place, Bristol and after chatting to a few people we decided to go for it.  With the future looking unsure for theatre and performance in general, we really wanted to bring an event that anyone, anywhere could enter and take part in.  Professionals, enthusiasts, anyone with a passion for puppetry.  People will have the chance to get their work out there and be able to see a wide range of amazing puppet films.  By hosting the festival online, we hope to reach a wide audience and spread the puppet love in lockdown.

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Can you tell us more about your background in puppetry and how you came to making puppet films in particular?

(Cat Rock) I have a Masters Degree in Theatre and Performance from the University of Kent and have been working in the puppetry industry for over 10 years. I’m a puppeteer, fabricator and have worked with all kinds of puppets.  Some fun ones to mention are Greenpeace’s ‘Giant Polar Bear Arora’,  Longleat Safari Park’s ‘Atlas the Lion’, ‘Count Duckula’ and I am currently working with The Paper Cinema.

 I have been mostly theatre based but have been looking for a way to create and produce my own puppet films.  I see all the amazing puppet film productions being made at the moment and I want to be a part of it.  The LA Puppetry Guild’s 48 hour film project combined with the lockdown gave me the push to focus and get it done.  It also helps living with an amazing bunch of puppet people.  We have joined forces and created “The House Of Funny Noises”, and we are now on our third film with a couple more in the pipeline.  We love the weird and the surreal, and look forward to creating our own unique puppet films that are short, sweet and sickening.

The House of Funny Noises is made up of three puppet professionals.  The other members are:

Izzy Bristow is a puppet and costume maker with a Masters in Puppetry from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.  She works internationally building large puppets for shows like Regent Park’s acclaimed production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors”.

Helena Houghton is a filmmaker, animator, props and puppet maker. She graduated from the University of the West of England with a degree in stop motion, and has since fallen in love with all puppet mediums. Helena embraces the weird in her work to make visually stimulating art.


How will ‘The Challenge’ work and who are you hoping will take part?  Will there be a theme and guidelines or is it all up to the entrants?

The Challenge will begin at 7pm (BST) Friday 28th of August. This is when we will announce the three prompts to all the individuals and teams that have registered to take part in the challenge. The prompts will consist of an action, an item and a theme.

For example, The action ‘throw’, the item ‘pencil’ and the theme ‘temptation’.

Participants must include these prompts in their film.

The timer is then set and they will have 48 hours to devise, build, film, edit and submit their original puppet film. The submission deadline is 7pm on Sunday 30th of August (BST).

Participants can use pre-made puppets, but the film content story and its actual filming must all be done in the 48 hour timeframe.  The films will then be reviewed by our judging panel (to be released soon.)  We will be hosting an online film festival on the 12th and 13th of September (full schedule to be released nearer the time) where we will show all of the entered films and announce the winners of our categories.

The awards categories are:

1st  Place

2nd Place

3rd Place

Honorable Mention

Audience Choice (voted for by the audience)

Participant Choice Award  (voted for by the participants of the challenge)

Top 10

Age – 16-18, Judges’ Choice

Age – 11-15, Judges’ Choice

Age – 10 and under, Judges’ Choice

Everyone who wants to submit a film in The Challenge must register before 28th August.

Registration is FREE!

We ask those who are able to donate to the event but our main goal is to make this accessible for everyone.  We especially want to reach out to Black, Asian, ethnic minorities and youth communities, to help encourage diversity in the puppetry industry.  We will be in contact with registered participants to give them more information about The Challenge in the weeks to come. If you can’t join us in The Challenge, we welcome everyone to join us at the Watch Party to see what everyone has created.


What are you hoping to achieve with ‘The Challenge’ and what will happen to the films once they have been made?

We have six main aims for The Challenge:

  • To enable the art form of puppetry to reach new audiences, targeting young people and Black, Asian and ethnic minorities communities. We want to encourage diversity within the puppetry industry.

  • To provide a platform for audiences to become an active part in the creative process, creating their own original work.

  • To provide an opportunity for existing puppetry professionals to showcase their work to a wider audience.

  • To encourage people in these unprecedented times to create and have fun.

  • To inspire creativity, experimentation and growth in the puppetry field.

  • To provide an event which allows people to build bridges and make connections in the puppetry world, developing careers and prospects.

It is important to make events like this accessible and reach out to new people in these unprecedented times. It can be so easy to get lost in the chaos that is 2020.  We hope to give people a creative outlet which will be fun to do, great to watch and give people a challenge.

After the festival, the Top 10 films will be edited together to form an anthology, which will be available to watch online after the event. All of the other films submitted will be in the hands of their creators to do with what they will after the event. We hope everyone will share their work, spread the joy and join us again next year.



How can people take part?  And how can people help?

You must register to enter, so you can take part by registering to enter a film in The Challenge and you can join us at the online film festival and watch all the entries. Registration is FREE but you must register before 28 August to enter the competition.  Register here.

You can help by spreading the word about  The Challenge and if you are able you can donate for our fundraiser, we can go on to make this event an annual one. We are also seeking sponsorship from any companies or organisations who want to support us.  Email us at to find out more.

But mainly we just want people to have fun!


Interview with Josh Elwell


To find out more about ‘The Bristol 48 Hour Puppet Film Challenge’ and join in with the fun, visit the event Facebook page  and register now here.

Breathing New Life into Lockdown Puppetry with Half a String

Peter Morton of ‘Half a String‘ Puppetry talked to Puppet Place about their unique collaborations and how the lockdown has inspired a new wave of creative work. This includes a series of online films called ‘Seedling‘.

Tell us about your background and interest in puppetry. How did Half a String come about?

I grew up doing “muppet” style hand puppets in my Dad’s church, writing sketches etc. I then went to the University of Kent to study Drama & Theatre and then a Masters in Contemporary Performance.  As part of this, I discovered Bunraku and War Horse, etc. and fell in love with making things move.  I have always been a builder,  and designing and constructing things that move is the most interesting form of this for me. That live moment when an audience fully invests in the puppet and world constructed around it is really special and something I really like to explore.  I love the dishonesty of everyone pretending a puppet is alive.  There is something really communal and honest about it.  Half a String came about after Avi Simmons, a singer/songwriter and physical performer, collaborated to create ‘A Heart at Sea‘. We wanted to create a puppetry and live music show that could be performed anywhere and things snowballed from there. I run Half a String now, creating and touring shows as well as designing for other productions.

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Half a String started as a collaboration between you and Musician and Performer Avi Simmons. You have a beautiful design style and Avi writes equally stunning music. How did you find each other and how does the creative relationship work?

I met Avi when I co-ran Knuckle and Joint, another puppetry company.  We got her involved puppeteering an outdoor show with giant bird puppets.  I heard her music after that and we started collaborating.  We actually went to the same university and did the same course but a few years apart so missed each other then. The creative relationship differs from project to project.  I take the lead on producing all of Half a String’s work.  Avi is usually there at the beginning; helping with forming the idea, funding applications and writing music etc.  A lot of ideas come in the tour van for new projects!  For ‘A Heart at Sea’ we sat and wrote the story together, then she went away and wrote the songs and music and I went away and built.  We would come back and share, then go away and repeat until we had a show. ‘Boulder’ was led by myself more as a director, so I wrote a loose script and a fantastic devising team worked on it in rehearsal, with Avi taking the lead on the music and song-writing during the rehearsal process. For ‘Under the Frozen Moon’, I collaborated with a poet called Alice Bryant to write the script and story and Avi came a little later into the process to rehearse and add songs to this. So we are quite fluid in the way we work project to project.


Boulder Principle Image 2.jpg


Can you say a little bit about your shows ‘A Heart at Sea’, ‘Boulder’, and ‘BEE’? How has the current situation affected this work? 

‘A Heart at Sea’ was the first show that we created.  It was an epic folktale about a boy who bottles his heart up and throws it out to sea.  Lots of wooden puppets and a mechanical transforming box that turns into different set pieces, and which does steal the show. This was a very intimate show that had a lot of our personalty in it, so the songs were personal to Avi and very much her style. The puppets and set were very much what I wanted to build out of wood and design.  ‘Boulder’ was a more ambitious project and a lot harder to produce.  A bigger cast, projection, animation; lots of different scales to the puppets and big set pieces. This was based on the myth of Sisyphus, the guy pushing a boulder up a hill, and the show explored this in quite a real way.  We looked lots into philosophy and got quite dark as points. It was really great working with that fantastic team of puppeteers and a cellist, and it had a more epic nature.

‘BEE’ is an outdoor show with a 10 foot man and a giant bee puppet that wonders around festivals, more pure puppetry this one and a lot of fun. More of a design challenge for me than anything else.  We are starting to book ‘BEE’ more now because of the focus on outdoor work, which was something I hadn’t been putting a huge focus on previously due to other projects.  This year was meant to be the final year of touring ‘A Heart at Sea’ and we had a few dates, one being the studio in the Royal Albert Hall and a festival up in Orkney, which was really exciting but of course all got cancelled.  Hopefully there will be some kind of ending for the show that’s a little more triumphant.  ‘Boulder’ was meant to go out touring as well.  With the larger cast it’s a lot trickier to tour without funding, which is what we usually aim for.  We are thinking of new ways our work can reach people, which might mean shelving the more intimate indoor work for a while. There has all been a lot of blue sky thinking about how to present our work in the future, all to be confirmed though!

Under the Frozen Moon’ is taking bookings for Christmas and beyond. What are your plans for this piece?

We have a tour booked this Christmas, a little reduced due to the situation, and we’re keeping fingers crossed that it will go ahead.  We are also beginning to look at next year, but currently trying to get this year sorted really.  It was really fun touring this winter show last year and we hope to be doing it for a couple of years yet.  It’s a very magical and visual show with a lots of room for puppetry and moments of silliness.  We also have big plans for the book that we produced with the show – a fully illustrated story book – and plan to try and get that out into some kind of book shop or other outlet, as we do still sell it on our website.


As a response to live performance being shut down you have created a series of charming online films. How did those come about and where do you see that work going in the future?

We have been wanting to create work online for a while actually, something to compliment our live performances and keep the conversation going.  So the opportunity to make Seedling with First Art, who funded the piece, was amazing and something we were really grateful for as an outlet for our work at this time. The idea came from a project we were already and still are planning and rehearsing called ‘Breathe’, which is about trees and finding space in a busy world. We were really amazed by the different effects on nature the lockdown was having with animals and plants reclaiming places they would otherwise be isolated from. Our Seedling was our envoy from nature to see what was going on.

So the collaboration from Suitman Jungle and Avi Simmons will continue and we hope to launch ‘Breathe’ the live show Spring/Summer next year.

Interview with Josh Elwell


For more information about Half a String Theatre, visit their website: and find out the latest news on Facebook and Twitter.

Review: Handmade Puppet Dreams on Amazon Prime

Heather Henson’s ‘Hand Made Puppet Dreams’ is now live on Amazon Prime. This is an eclectic collection of selected puppet shorts brought to you by IBEX Puppetry, Heather’s personal project. She has certainly produced one of the most diverse puppet film selections that you will see anywhere. And she clearly has a flair for seeking out some of the United States’ finest, and at times most peculiar, handmade puppet film makers!


There is a huge amount of diversity; from the most beautifully and carefully crafted to the epitome of homemade. There are clear stand out films that are a ‘must watch’ for any puppet film enthusiast or aspiring film maker and there are others that prove that with a camera and a sock puppet anyone could be the next Spielberg!

One of the most extraordinary is ‘Junk Palace’ directed by Lyon Hill. Based on a macabre true tale of two brothers whose hoarding takes them to the extreme. The craftsmanship of these elaborate paper cut-outs is breathtaking and the perfect balance of a gripping story and a striking visual style draws the audience into the darkness of its soul.

Junk-Palace.jpg‘Junk Palace’ directed by Lyon Hill

Another exceptional piece is Sam Koji Hale’s ‘Yamasong’.  This is short film made prior to the full motion picture is surreal, elemental and disturbing in equal measure. With a masked patchwork girl and a tortoise fisherman chasing a fallen star! I’m looking forward to seeing more work from Sam in the not-so-distant future.

Yamasong.jpg‘Yamasong’ directed by Sam Koji Hale

Toby Froud’s ‘Lessons Learned’ is magical and sumptuous. With a real flavour of Henson’s ‘Dark Crystal’ (Toby was production designer on the recent Netflix series) and the haunting atmosphere of Dartmoor National Park. This is a story of a boy whose inquisitiveness gets the better of him and falls into a world not intended for him. Striking design, a poignant narrative and expert puppetry make for rich viewing.

Lessons-Learned.jpg‘Lessons Learned’ directed by Toby Froud.

There are others in the series that are curiously creative and oddly beguiling like ‘The Narrative of Viktor Karloch’, voiced by Christopher Lee and Elijah Wood. Kevin McTurk’s film has a dark and sinister tone and, with haunting doll like puppets, coaxes us into the genre of puppet horror. ‘Harker’ and ‘Melvin the Birder’ deserve attention, and it is also worth checking out ‘Crane and Tortoise’ to see some beautifully executed puppetry.

Others in the series left me a little bemused but one thing is for certain – it is fantastically inspiring to see puppetry used on screen in so many diverse ways.  Wouldn’t it be exciting to see more ‘Handmade Puppet Films’ and perhaps even ones made here in the UK? Hey UK puppeteers! How about it?!

Review by Josh Elwell

Handmade Puppet Dreams is available to watch on Amazon Prime now.  To find out more about the series and IBEX Puppetry, visit the website:  

Theatrical Evolution: The Birth of Opposable Thumb Theatre

We are hugely excited to hear about Dik Downey and Adam Blake’s new company Opposable Thumb Theatre. Described as subversive physical theatre, OTT promises to build on Dik & Adam’s success with ‘Coulrophobia (fear of clowns)’ – 80 minutes of slapstick, mime, puppetry, existential angst and big shoes’. The show is still going strong and touring the world on into 2020. Josh Elwell catches up with Dik Downey to unearth more about this exciting new manifestation and to discover in what direction it may be careering next.


After 20 years of running Pickled Image this is a new and exciting direction for you and your work. What is it that has led you to the conception of Opposable Thumb Theatre and what is it for you that makes it a new and different adventure?

I formed Pickled Image in 2000 with Vicky Andrews, who had a background in sculpture and theatre design. We made fantastic shows and have garnered a reputation for making quality puppets shows. Pickled Image perform many different types of show from family entertainment, street theatre, cabaret and adult performances, all with many types of puppetry, but after 20 years I felt I wanted a change and to concentrate on making bronze sculptures and to look at making more challenging, subversive theatre. Although Coulrophobia was a Pickled Image production, it typifies the style of work I’m passionate about. It’s anarchic and silly, but it has hidden depths. We are using it as a launch pad to get Opposable Thumb on the map until we make our new show, which we are currently in negotiation with NVT to co-produce.

Meanwhile Vicky is taking Pickled Image to greater heights (& audiences) with her brilliant shows ‘Yana and the Yeti’ and ‘ Woodland Tales with Granddad’.

You have seen huge success with Coulrophobia and have played to packed houses, rave reviews and standing ovations since 2014! The show is part of The London International Mime Festival in January and then you are back home to the Wardrobe Theatre in the Spring. What else lies in store for this acclaimed production?

We have just been taken on by Ali Robertson ( formally from the Tobacco Factory Theatre & Kneehigh) as our producer and he’s really on the ball, inviting potential bookers, collaborators and co-producers to LIMF to see Coulrophobia, plus we’ve also got bookings for festivals in Spain, Norway, Estonia, Bulgaria, Portugal and others in the pipeline. It’s great that the show has this type of popularity and, despite being in English, it still works where it isn’t widely spoken. The show is visual enough to speak for itself.


Coulrophobia skilfully combines slapstick, clowning, puppetry and anarchic comedy. How important to you are these elements? Can you tell us a bit about your creative process and where you find the fuel to feed this fierce creative fire?

Coulrophobia was a show that had been gnawing away at the back of my mind for a fair while before I was actually ready to make it. I had made ‘The Shop of Little Horrors’ for Pickled Image in 2013 and had drafted in Adam Blake as a performer/puppeteer to work with me on the show. Adam hadn’t had a vast amount of theatre experience, but had done quite a few clown workshops and was a natural performer, very funny and quick to learn puppetry. It seemed like a logical step to make another show together. For ‘The Shop of Little Horrors’ we played with classic horror tropes and ventriloquism, but we wanted the new show to be more extreme, physically and emotionally. Initially we toyed with the idea of violence, towards each other and the audience. We went to stage-fighting classes, trained with swords and guns but then decided that wasn’t really who we were. We just wanted to be silly instead. I have been working with puppets for about 28 years, but mixing it up with latex masked characters, so replacing the mask with clown makeup wasn’t a big step. I wanted to keep puppets within the show, but didn’t want to make a ‘puppet show’. An early tagline was ‘crap clowns do puppets’. The mime just wrote itself in, existential angst is always lurking and the big shoes I painstakingly made.

Adam & I discovered that we were a pretty good team whilst working on ‘Shop’. Our characters accidentally reflected us in life, Adam young and keen and I old and grumpy, but together we seemed to bring out the best in each other. Once we decided that we were going to make a new show, we knew we were going to play on our differing characteristics, exaggerating them to comic extremes. I knew John from seeing Peepolykus shows since the mid 90’s and getting to know him in Bristol (everyone knows everyone here). I really love John’s humour and his style of theatre and he seemed like a natural fit for Coulrophobia. The devising process consisted of us locked in a room attempting to make him laugh. Adam & I threw ideas at him and he would turn them on their heads. We played lots of status games, satirising traditional circus routines (we worked for days on a crap juggling routine, but you have to be good at a skill to convincingly make it look bad, so that went out the window). We worked a few days with a choreographer and even spent some time with a magician. John’s main task was to take the huge amount of material we came up with and hone it into a cohesive show.   


Im sure readers will be keen to know what lies round the corner for Opposable Thumb? Is there a new show brewing behind the scenes? Are there other aspects of the work that we can look forward to in the coming year?

We are currently in discussion with Nordland Visual Theatre, Norway, where we made Coulrophobia, Yana and 3 other shows, about a new co-production in 2021. The working title is ‘Big Boys Don’t Cry’. I’m not saying more until we have the go ahead, but it will be a very different show to Coulrophobia, but with many many familiar traits. Also Adam & I are talking about making a cabaret show using bits of old stuff, new stuff and stuff we make up on the spot, but as Adam has just had his 2nd child and has quite a lot of other work with WyldWood, we’ll have to fit in around his super busy schedule.

Coulrophobia will be appearing at Jackson’s Lane as part of The London International Mime Festival. The show will also be back in Bristol at The Wardrobe Theatre in the spring 2020.

Life of a Real Celebri-TOY! An Interview with Clementine (and Mark Mander)

I first came across ‘Clementine the Living Fashion Doll’ on YouTube when I discovered her wonderfully creative and camp films. Then, last year, I was treated to a side splitting night of hilarious and ingenious puppet cabaret at Cafe Zedel in London’s West End. This featured the mini diva herself along with a supporting cast of extraordinary characters and creatures all performed by a hugely talented cast.

The wizard behind the curtain is Mark Mander, a puppeteer and dress designer who sews couture for one of the great miniature divas of show business. Puppet Place were able to catch up with both Mark and Clementine to find out about some of the hard work behind the magic, glitter and glamour of being a puppet princess.


First of all Mark, can I ask you how your relationship with Clementine began? What came first: diva or couture?

My relationship with Clementine came about when I was asked to create and perform a puppet show for a pub. The landlord wanted me to make something like a Punch and Judy show with Spitting Image style characters based on people who drank at the venue.  This struck me as far too cruel a thing to do to people living out of the public eye , as puppet caricatures can be pretty unforgiving.

I had seen the comedy double act ‘The Two Ronnies’ use humanette puppets in a sketch on TV and wanted to use the same technique.  A living doll seemed to be the obvious character – and so Clementine was born. Her first performance was warmly received and she has continued to grow and control more and more of my life ever since!

As to which came first, Diva or Couture, I would say the latter.

I went to art school where I particularly enjoyed fashion studies, but I‘m one of the breed of puppeteers who has always made my own puppets. I was creating puppets and the associated miniature clothing since I was about 6 years old I guess. I learned to make clothing by doing it.  Good old trial and error.


Clementine, I understand that you are quite a demanding client! I also hear that you have had over a 1000 dresses made for you throughout your career. How do you go about discussing and deciding upon your next glamorous creation?

I wouldn’t say I was demanding in the slightest!  You must remember that I was living the American Dream of pink plastic perfection before I came to REAL life.  It was only THEN that I discovered my penthouse apartment was made of printed cardboard, my sports car ran on two AA batteries and my boyfriend’s underpants were moulded on.  It  was all difficult to grasp, I can tell you.

I think we would all like our lives to be like a Hollywood film, with dance numbers and a happy ending.  I just want everything to be PERFECT, which I think is a reasonable starting point, don’t you?

Yes, I do have an extensive wardrobe of fabulous fashions, but I need them for my fantastic lifestyle.  As a liberated doll of today and multi-platform CELEBRITOY  my days are action-packed. 

I might be dancing ‘Swan Lake’ after breakfast, helping to remove plastic pollution from a coral reef by lunch time, then fighting alien invaders in deep space by dinner. So in a typical day I look at my diary , imagine what outfits I need, then get my PA to tell my designer to have them ready in an hour or two. I imagine you do something similar?

Just because I’m helping save the environment (PLEASE don’t ask me about my charity work) or battling an extraterrestrial menace, its no excuse for not looking my best.

Mark, as well as being Clementine’s costumier, you also have a special role to play within her performances. Can you tell us a little bit about this relationship? How easy is Clementine to work with? Do you always see eye to eye?

All I can say is that, due to several gagging orders, Clementine and I are seldom seen in the same room at the same time.

Clementine, can you tell us about your live performance? You also include various other guests. What are the important elements to a Clementine show? What are your main sources of inspiration? What is it that you hope audiences will go away with?

As luck would have it, I’m returning home from a live performance in the West End as I type!  (I‘m in my clockwork  private jet . It’s VERY environmentally friendly, but we do have to stop after every 4 miles to wind it up.)   I guess my show is structured like a Variety TV special from the 1970s.  I have several guest characters performed brilliantly by Ruth Calkin and Mark Esaias , there are some live sketches, some filmed inserts and of course I sing a few songs wearing amazing evening gowns.

My source of inspiration is pop culture in all its forms.  Old TV shows , classic songs from the American Song Book, fashion fads, etc.

I hope the audience go away from my shows having had a good time.  I adore making people laugh and according to some research notes, which came with my nurses outfit, science is proving that laughter has a real and positive physical affect on the human body!

There are a million shows out there that are catalysts for deep thought and discussion – probing the innermost recesses of the human condition.  My shows do contain a few political references and adult themes, if you care to spot them, and it can be argued, by people who like to argue, that having ANY opinion on stage is a political act, but my main aim is to have the audience leave the show having laughed and feeling better than they came in.  I also like it when they pay for tickets.


Mark, as well as the live show, you have also worked with Clementine on a number of fun and fantastic films, some of which can be seen on YouTube. How does Clementine’s film work differ from her work on stage? Which of her repertoire are your favourites? 

Clementine on film and Clementine on stage require different technical approaches, each with their benefits and drawbacks.

On screen, Clementine is completely free to move around, do anything and go anywhere she wishes, giving huge opportunities for different  narratives.  What can be lost is the sense that Clementine is a live performance with her head and body working in unison. I have been asked frequently what computer program I use to generate Clementine’s body.   Anything unusual on screen is often now assumed to be CGI.

On stage Clementine is more static but the upside is she is standing in front of an audience appearing like a computer generated avatar but clearly live. It’s a simple illusion but very impactful.  Clementine has recently come in a talking version and speaking live on stage creates a direct bond with the audience , making her seem all the more real and strange at the same time.

As to my favourite clips… Clementine made a film for the British Film Institute several Christmases ago in which she raided the archives of the BFI and presented clips of well loved puppet characters like Pinky and Perky, Hartley Hare and Basil Brush.  It was shown at the BFI for one night only, but the trailer is on YouTube.  The event was called ‘Puppets With Attitude’.

Another favourite film was a tribute Clementine made to the late great animator Ray Harryhausen. Sadly this clip was removed from Vimeo and I can’t find it online.  If anyone finds it I would love to know.  My most recent favourite film was a collaboration with the BBC, showing how Clementine’s costumes are made and linking her to the program The Great British Sewing Bee

Clementine, you have recently held a residency in London’s West End at Cafe Zedel. What lies ahead for a star of your stature? Where would you like to take your talents next?

Clementine Held ? HELD ? Wrong tense sweetie! I’m currently HOLDING a residency in the West End at Crazy Coqs, which is the gorgeous Art Deco venue based within Brasserie Zedel. I just finished my Easter Eggs-travaganza, which brought the house down on the 22nd April . My thoughts now turn to my NEXT show at Zedel on the 4th of July.  It is American Independence Day of course, but it’s also right in the middle of the London Pride festivities, so I have decided to call the show ‘Clementine’s Liberty Special – A Star Spangled Rainbow’, a celebration of  fabulous freedom. I have new songs to learn, new films to star in and have to be fitted for a host of new costumes.  I have to give, give , give till it hurts, but that is my duty as an icon of glamour.

There will be at least two more shows at Zedel after that in 2019. Watch the website for details:

I haven’t forgotten those people who through choice or some form of  personal disaster do not live in London. I’m taking my West End Show directly to ‘The Little Theatre, Sheringham’, a gorgeous independent theatre on the North Norfolk coast on the 9th of November.  Beyond that I’m hoping to get back onto TV again this year, but whatever the platform – be it the West End Stage, International Travel or the internet (visit my website:  and my Facebook page Clementine Dolly) – I hope I can continue to spread happiness through my appearances as a singer/ actor/ presenter/ model / glamour icon / charity worker…  In short, a Celebritoy!

Sparkly love, Clementine xxx

(Is there a fee for this interview?)

Interview with Josh Elwell

Explosive Puppetry! Inside the new Gerry Anderson’s ‘Firestorm’


An interview by puppeteer Josh Elwell with Puppet Coordinator, Andrew James Spooner, looking inside the new Gerry Anderson’s ‘Firestorm‘.


Andy, you are the Puppet Coordinator on the new production of ‘Gerry Anderson’s Firestorm’, an amazing new pilot minisode has just been released and it has got fans fizzing with anticipation! This short film has all the style and action of one of Gerry’s original shows like Thunderbirds, Stingray or Space 1999, but with a modern twist. Please start by telling us how you approached the puppetry differently in Firestorm and how it compares to Gerry’s previous shows.

Well, when it came to our approach, as you know as a puppeteer yourself, the puppets dictate a lot. You have all kinds of ideas in your head, and then you pick up one of the puppets for the first time and you think “ah, it’s going to be like that is it!” They were beautifully built by Mackinnon & Saunders, but were very heavy.  We also had some issues with the rigging.  So ultimately, much of what we were doing on the pilot was on-the-spot problem solving.  Luckily, the team I had around me were excellent, and once we were up and running things went relatively smoothly.  These new puppets are very removed from the classic Thunderbirds puppets. 

The most obvious change is that they aren’t marionettes.  They are essentially hi tech bunraku puppets with an animatronic element.  The bodies (arms, legs, torso, head) are all operated via rods, with various access points depending on what’s needed.  The face, however, is operated via an RC unit using cutting edge animatronics.  It’s the best possible mixture of old and new techniques.  The faces are capable of an impressive range of emotions.  There are a couple of shots in the minisode that really show this off I think.  I really wanted the puppets to feel REAL.  Now, this doesn’t always mean trying to ape realistic movements. It means that they feel real in the context of this clearly defined universe they inhabit. One of the things I learned from the pilot is that I think we can push the characters a little more, make the movements bigger, the expressions a little larger. When you do this the performances really pop. We were trying to play things small and realistic. We can dare to be bigger.




From a puppeteers perspective what are the particular challenges that you are faced with on this project and what makes it unlike other shows you have worked on? 

The time! We had very little time to rehearse. Literally a day or two. This was simply because I was brought into the process so late.  Admittedly, the situation was very different on Firestorm, so the whole timeline was very compressed. Once I was brought on board, I frantically made a lot of phone calls and got my team together. I then went to the set and met Jamie for the first time face-to-face.

Then a few days later we were shooting! It was an abject lesson on thinking on your feet. In that kind of situation, I firmly believe that the best thing to do is just get on with it. Get into the set and work things out.  Sometimes that can be more effective than being in a rehearsal space for days in a little bubble.  I’m sure you’ve worked on things where you have the rehearsal period, and then you go to shoot it and discover that you can’t do what you rehearsed because of the layout of the set.  Square one! In the case of Firestorm we just had to leap into it and make it work. I wish that the TV and film industry would factor in more time, ANY time, for rehearsal. But It’s getting less and less. 




Key to all Gerry Anderson’s shows are the models and the in-camera special effects. In the minisode there are some hair-raising moments and terrifying explosions! How was it working as a puppeteer amongst this aspect of the production?

Well, all the pyrotechnics (for the minisode) were shot separately, and then composited into the shots later. The shots where puppets were present anyway. But they were all real elements, real explosions! It’s obviously huge fun being around that kind of stuff. When I was a kid, because of watching shows like Stingray and Thunderbirds, and movies like Star Wars and Battle Beyond The Stars, I was all about the models. I wanted to be a model maker initially. I would spend excessive amounts of time building spaceships out of leftovers from Airfix kits. It’s called “Kit Bashing”, the process of building a new model out of old kits. So being around this stuff now is making my inner 12 year old very happy. We all love a good explosion right! We (all the puppeteers) were in our green room when we heard that they were going to blow up the island. Cue a massive stampede to get down to the set and grab a plum position to see it go up!




You have also been working with a highly skilled team of builders,  special effects folk, voice artists and puppeteers. Tell us a bit about the team you are working with. What is unique about the way these guys work?

We all have our areas of expertise. What was great about this team is that there was no ego. None. It was one of the most relaxed and happy sets I have ever worked on. We were all there because of our love of the project, and our love of Gerry Anderson shows. We all got on with our jobs to the best of our ability. When I came on board, there were others who had been working on the project for a long time.  Some for weeks, some for years. But they were all welcoming and supportive. A real privilege to work with.  I didn’t meet any of the voice actors until the launch at MCM Comicon in London, but it was fantastic to see their reaction to what we had done. And to introduce them to their puppet alter egos!




You have been working closely with Gerry’s son Jamie who has been working tirelessly to keep his father’s legacy going. How does Jamie’s vision match or differ from his father’s, and what was it like working with Jamie taking this new exciting step?

Jamie is (and he’ll hate me for saying this!) simply wonderful to work with.  He’s got a very clear idea of where Firestorm sits in the legacy of his father’s work.  He wants it to have, at its core, all the elements we loved in those classic shows. High concept science fiction adventure plots, combined with thrilling action sequences and a dose of humour. But most importantly, he wants the characters to shine through. You can have all the “Whizz Bang!” you want – if you don’t care for the characters, it won’t work. However, he also wants Firestorm to be striking out into new territory. It’s time to show the world what these kinds of puppets can do now that we have the support of computer technology. It’s the first step in a new era of Anderson shows.

The production was started by Jamie Anderson with a Kickstarter campaign. How successful was the campaign? How far did it get the production and what are the next steps?

The Kickstarter campaign was mainly used to fund the research and development of the puppets. They were, hands down, the element that needed to work 100%.  The rest of the production was a massive act of pulling in favours.  Once we shot the live action for the minisode, it took more than 2 years to get the rest of the post production completed.  But now it’s out there! As for the next steps? Well, pre-production has started on a full series! This is thrilling news, we all worked so hard to make this happen – and nobody worked harder than Jamie.

We plan to start shooting in Spring of 2019.




Find out more about the Firestorm at the website here: and keep up with the latest news on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  Read more about Andrew James Spooner and see his portfolio of work on his website and Twitter.