……and rest!! The rush is over, here’s what’s been happening!

Rough Magic Theatre's Collette Knowles entertains the crowds.

What a load of Nonsense!

Good news, my dear blog readers.  Rumours of my demise have been premature.

You may remember that I said I was going to visit Ted & Enid Hawkins and see their “Treasure Island” Toy Theatre show, which we missed at the Vischmarkt Festival because we were always performing at the same time.  We have in fact had that visit, and have also done our “Hansel & Gretel” show for them.  But I’m not going to talk about that now, because I want to take my time writing about that and to check with Ted that he approves of what I’m writing about him.

What I am going to talk about is Skipton Puppet Festival.  I was performing my new Shadow Puppet Suitcase show on Saturday the 24th of September and was also lucky enough to be given free tickets to any ticketed shows that I wanted to see.

On the Friday I went to the Puppeteers UK agm, which was very pleasant.  I encountered a number of familiar faces and some new ones too!

Then in the evening I saw a show by a Devon based company, Angel Heart Theatre.  Who did a show called “Jack and The Devil’s purse.  This was done with one puppeteer, (James Richardson) and one live musician, (Griselda Sanderson).  The music was excellent and the puppets were very attractive.  The puppeteer managed to operate multiple (mainly Bunraku style) puppets and act a character himself as well.  One of the ways this was accomplished was through the use of a nifty piece of kit I couldn’t quite see that fixed the puppets in standing or sitting positions without being physically supported by the puppeteer.  Another nice touch was the creation of the “set” from various trunks, packing crates and bits of old rubbish, in which the different characters of the story were entirely and cunningly hidden in plain sight until they were needed.

The next day was my own performance day.  I had ended up with 21 puppets in total.  That was nearly twice as many as I had in my other Shadow Suitcase Show “Jabberwocky!”.  I had been very concerned from the beginning about how on earth I was going to do a story with so many more characters in it without losing them or getting them tangled up inside the suitcase.

Luckily, I came up with an ingenious solution that enabled me to put my hands on the exact puppets I wanted easily, and in the right order.  It worked so well, in fact, that I believe it was actually easier to find and remove the puppets I needed in this show than in the previous one.

What can this solution be? I hear you ask, surely it must be something that cost a fortune!  It was actually a very long strip of card folded into a concertina shape to create compartments into which the puppets could be inserted sideways on.

Something else I was very pleased about, was the new “Speakeazee” PA system.  I had purchased this specially for the suitcase shows and it worked excellently.  I used the headset mic. which gave me freedom of movement, and the very tiny battery operated PA was on a little trolley so I could pull it while wearing the suitcase.  It was also loud enough to attract larger crowds than when I have performed without it, and I didn’t strain my voice.  This was particularly good as I had caught a cold the previous week.

Tim did a splendid job of recording the performances both in video and photo form.  I had been very keen to get a video of this, because up until this point I had not had any footage of my Shadow Puppet Suitcase.  I had good audiences, and both adults and children enjoyed joining in with their own animal noise sound effects.  You can see some of their comments on the new “Edward Lear’s Nonsense” showpage on our main website.

I had time to see the “Mario” show, Punch & Judy and the majority of “Festival” by Mark Whitaker as well as some little shows by the London School of Puppetry students.

Rue Barree’s “Mario” was a fantastic street puppet show, though some of the humour was rather adult in flavour.  It was a brilliant combination of confident energetic performance, fantastic comedic skills, brilliant puppetry and juggling skill as well.

The two performers worked seamlessly together, with one providing voice, right arm and right leg and the other providing head/neck manipulation, left arm and left leg.  As I cannot juggle at all, I was extremely impressed that two people were able to make “Mario” juggle in this incredible way.

It was also wonderful to see Professor Geoff. Felix’s Punch & Judy show.  It contained all the things one likes to see, a clown, a ghost, a policeman, a crocodile, some sausages and of course Punch, Judy and the baby.  It was of course hilarious, naughty and dangerous with brilliantly co-ordinated slap-stick and manipulation.  And the little kids all enjoyed the joining in, (and the big kids).

Mark Whitaker’s “Festival”, was a mini chinese festival enacted by chinese glove puppets.  This was a treat for me, as I have not seen a performance of this type before.  It was particularly interesting to note the differences between this and the Punch & Judy show.  I was pleased to see that this show also contained a good helping of humour.  The way Mark was able to animate different parts of the chinese lion’s face was particularly amusing.

Without a doubt my favourite show that I watched was Urashima Taro by Rouge 28.  I was very keen to see this because I have been fascinated by the Japanese Bunraku for some time, as well as having a great curiosity about the Kamishibai form of story telling.

This would be of great interest to the Toy Theatre afficionados out there, as the example I saw in this show, was a great deal like a traditional japanese toy theatre show.  Usefully, the small Mamishibai frame was projected live onto a large screen behind, as I was right at the back of the audience.  There were coloured 2-d figures which were manipulated from above with wires in a manner very similar to the way we manipulate some of our figures in “Hansel & Gretel”.

The figures were also pored over in a ritualistic and “voodoo” style way by the witch character, who was a bunraku style puppet.  Aya Nakamura who was the only performer that we saw, (there may have been others backstage) had her face painted white in the same manner as the faces of the life size puppets she was manipulating, which of course created a greater similarity between the two.  She managed to manipulate a puppet as one character and perform herself as another, at the same time in a way that was utterly convincing dramatically.

The shadow play used the shadows of the Bunraku style puppets, Aya and occasionally shadow puppets.  I think given the timing of elements of the show, some of the “shadow play” was probably a pre-recorded projection, unfortunately I did not manage to get to talk to them afterwards to ask.  Also, extremely bravely, Aya appeared to strip naked behind the shadow screen as part of the performance.  I stress, this was very tasteful and an essential part of the story.  Though having said that, I think this aspect of the performance provoked, (and was designed to provoke) very real and strong emotions in the audience.  Though the section at the end where the central character who is a puppet was stripped of his clothes, leaving only head, arms and a net robe where his body should be, was probably the most moving part of the performance.  This was because Aya succeeded in giving life to the characters she was animating in a real spiritual way, as opposed to just a technically skilful way.

The whole effect of all the different techniques employed was genuinely good storytelling and great theatre.  I can’t say that I fully understood everything that happened, but I like a bit of mystery and something to think about afterwards when I go to the theatre.

I shall tell you all about the brand new puppet parade and the marvellous organisation of the festival in my next blog post!  Below is the video of “Edward Lear’s Nonsense” that we made.


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