A Whole lot of puppet stuff!!! Pt.2 of 2 – Wolds Words, Central School of Speech & Drama & primary puppets in Middlesbrough

Apologies for the huge delay on the second installation of “puppet stuff!!!” avid puppetlady readers:

On Saturday 24th of October Tim Austin (my Rough Magic Theatre co-performer and husband) were invited to perform our “Alice in Wonderland” show for the “Wolds Words” festival in the library building in Louth, Lincolnshire.  On the following Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I was due to teach the First Year puppetry students at Royal Central School of speech and drama and the Monday following that I was due to work in a primary school in Middlesbrough making hand and string puppets.

The performance space for “Alice” was upstairs but we had lots of help getting all our props and costumes up to the room from Angela Reynolds (the lady who booked us from Magna Vitae) and her young daughter.  It was a modestly sized but very appreciative audience, all of whom were very reluctant to leave at the end of the show!  We invited them to ask us questions and to see any of the puppets they were interested in more closely which they seemed to enjoy immensely before they left.

So after packing up and eating a well earned meal we went to Norfolk to visit Tim’s relations (which is not too far from Louth) and planned to go on from there to London on the following Tuesday.

I had made contact with Nenagh Watson through Facebook earlier in the year when we had a chat about how my suitcase shadow theatre worked as she was interested in making something similar herself.  She expressed interest in my coming to work with the students at “Central” (I shall use this as a shortened form of “Royal Central School of Speech and Drama” for the rest of the post) but I explained that as I live such a long way from London that if I ever came to work with the students it would ideally need to be a block of work rather than the odd day here and there.  It wasn’t possible to book this in at the time that we spoke about it but Nenagh thought she could probably arrange something later on in the year.  In the meantime she asked me to make a suitcase theatre for her which she used to create a little show for her wedding.  CLICK HERE to see my previous post on the making of this suitcase.

Then when I enquired about doing some work at Central a bit later in the year Nenagh managed to arrange for me to do a block of 3 days with the first year puppetry students.  This also coincided with the “Suspense” puppet festival organised by Little Angel Theatre.  This is a festival that we have never attended previously as we do not produce theatre specifically for adults ourselves and because London is a bit out of the way just for a pleasure jaunt.  Nenagh also kindly arranged for us to stay with a friend of hers who lives in London and we came in a day early (Tuesday) to get settled.  This also allowed us to attend a Devoted & Disgruntled event on the Tuesday evening that was hosted by the Little Angel as part of the Suspense festival.  The discussion question was “Puppetry – Shackled by the Past?”.  If you do not know what a devoted and disgruntled event is CLICK HERE to see more information about these events which are run by “Improbable Theatre Company”.  It was a great event and there were lots of interesting discussions and I was able to meet not only Nenagh herself and some of the students I’d be working with but also several puppeteers who I had only met through social media before, such as Sian Kidd and Penny Francis.

Sian was performing Mirth & Misery’s “Death Puppet Klezma Jam” show as part of the festival but unfortunately this was not on while we were there.  While we were down in London, apart from the D&D event, we managed to see “Ubu & the Truth Commission” by Handspring Puppet Company (of Warhorse fame) and also the official “Suspense” opening event which had lots of time for chatting, munching and mingling and a puppet cabaret which included some snippets of upcoming shows in the festival.  We got to meet Aya Nakamura again, (of whom I am a huge fan) and also her co-performer Mohsen Nouri from Rouge 28 Theatre who I had not met before.  They performed their Mademoiselle Lychee humanette striptease act which I hadn’t seen before either.

For the workshops with the first year puppetry students from Central, I performed both of my Shadow Puppet Suitcase shows for them, (“Edward Lear’s Nonsense” and “Jabberwocky!“) for inspiration and Nenagh also brought the suitcase theatre that I had made for her to show the students and she also showed us the puppets and techniques that she had used for the special puppet show that she’d created for her wedding.  She had used some 3-D shadow puppetry using a scene made out of wire and acetate and did a starry night scene using card with pin-pricks and a torch which was very effective and also did some shadows outside of the suitcase using a white shirt and a light with red heart attached to it, (it’s a bit difficult to describe but the technique showed a glowing red heart through the shirt).

Having had all that inspiration the students had the rest of the three days to create their own short shadow puppet performance which they would perform with the suitcase theatre.  Jemima and Freddy both chose nonsense poems as inspiration and Jo picked a short poem by Robert Louis Stevenson from a book I’d brought to give them ideas, while Seb decided to make a shadow puppet play out of an environmentally themed piece that he had written previously.  They all did excellent work and performed their shows for some of the other students on the Friday, (all of whom seemed very impressed and well entertained).  All of the students helped each other to perform their shows rather than choosing to create shows where they were being entirely self-sufficient.  This gave them greater scope for creativity, more challenging lighting and sound effects.  You can see photo’s of their work below:

Work by Jemima Hand – Jemima created a performance based on “On The Ning Nang Nong” nonsense poem by Spike Milligan


Work by Frederica Hayes – Frederica created a performance based on a short section of “The Hunting of the Snark” by Lewis Carroll (“Fit the Seventh – The Banker’s Fate”)


Work by Sebastian Mayer – Sebastian created a performance based on an environmentally themed story that he had written previously.


Work by Joanna Wheele – Joanna created a performance based on the poem “Windy Nights” by Robert Louis Stevenson

When I finally got up to our base in North Yorkshire I had to make the journey to Middlesbrough for my primary school workshop through all of the very foggy weather we had at the time.  An early start at quarter to five ensured that I reached the school in good time but unfortunately my sat-nav took me on the worst possible route back again through the Yorkshire Dales, (which can be misty at the best of times).  Luckily I got back in one piece but it was very low visibility and made for hairy driving conditions!  I did hand and string puppet making using the same technique that I had used previously at a school in Bridlington (CLICK HERE for pictures and more details).  I wasn’t able to take any pictures at the Middlesbrough school unfortunately.

I have crammed an awful lot into this one post so if anyone wants to ask for more information about anything I have written then please ask 🙂



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