Larger Than Life

My second share today is a series of videos made for the UK’s National Theatre  by Gyre & Gimble, a celebrated puppet company founded in 2014 by Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié, who were associate puppetry directors on the global theatrical hit, War Horse.

In the first video, Olié and Caldwell demonstrate a step-by-step guide for making a brown paper man puppet, which would be an excellent alternative for anyone want to work with Bunraku puppets.

The second video is a master class in bringing oversized puppets to life.

The third and final video focuses on storytelling through puppetry.

If you haven’t seen them, there is a whole series of excellent puppetry videos from The National here, including more from  Olié and Caldwell about their show The Elephantom,   created for temporary stage at The National.

Puppets in Penang

Puppet HouseI have just returned from a short trip to Penang, Malaysia and while I was there a came across a real little gem, the Teochew Puppet and Opera House Museum. Based in an old shophouse in the George Town UNESCO World Heritage site, it tells the story of a Chinese puppet and opera form I had never come across before. To call it a museum is a bit misleading, as they also stage puppet performances and operas on the premises, as well as leading workshops in both forms they promote.

To give it some context,  Teochew is a dialect that is native to the Chaoshan region of eastern Guangdong, whose people spread across the region in the 19th Century (and later, the world), taking their culture with them.

In an article for New Straits Times, Pauline Fan gives a short history of the Museum which is now run by the a 5th generation opera performer and puppeteer, Ling Goh. In another, for the Malay Mail, Vivian Cheong gives a more detailed sketch of family, which is quite fascinating.

Although the Opera House doesn’t have it’s own website, it does have a very well kept Facebook page, here,  which has much more information.

If you find yourself in Penang, I thoroughly recommend a visit and if there is no one else there when you drop by, you will get your own personal tour, as I did, as well as some hands on experience with the puppets themselves.

Table Tops In Tallinn

Theatre Room is closed for the summer. Along with much of the educational world (apologies to my antipodean readers) we are done for another academic year and headed off for sunnier (or in my case, cooler) climes. Having said this, a few things have happened in the world of theatre over the last few weeks that give some pause for thought, so over the next few days I will be writing about these.

Nukuteater-esileheleHowever, today I want to share a beautiful place I found on the first stop of my summer holiday. Based in Helsinki for few days, I took a ferry across the Gulf of Finland to Estonia to have a wander around the old city of Tallinn and turning a corner, stumbled across the NUKU Theatre and Museum. Nuku (which means puppet in Estonian) is the current guise of the Estonian State Puppet Theatre which was founded in 1952.

IMG_0622Set beautifully in restored buildings, parts of which date back to the medieval period,  NUKU comprises a puppet museum, puppetry research centre, puppet making workshops and various sized theatres (with another currently under construction within a neighbouring building) as well as housing the Estonian office of UNIMA (Union Internationale de la Marionette). The museum’s exhibits are curated using the latest technology, with an extensive puppet and marionette collection that includes those created in-house as well as pieces from around the world amongst which are shadow puppets from Indonesia, bunraku puppets from Japan and exquisite old world Eastern European puppets.

The theatres had just closed for the summer and a couple of the exhibits were under a bit of reorganisation so it was quiet when I visited and I ended up talking to one of the staff, Maria Usk, who turned out to be the museum’s director.  As a result I ended up getting my own private little tour from Maria which was just wonderful.

So if you find yourself in Tallinn, do go to NUKU. It is really well worth a visit if you are interested in the history and current practice of European puppet theatre. A real gem.

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Heads Up

photo-exhibition01-1A couple of puppet based things to share today. Over the Easter vacation I spent a few days in Taiwan and while I was there I paid a visit to the Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum, which is an absolute gem and I thoroughly recommend a visit if you find yourself in Taipei. Spread over four stories of an old colonial merchant’s house, the museum houses a 100 seat puppet theatre and puppet workshop where puppet carver Lai Shi-an plies his craft in front of visitors. However, the exhibit itself is what makes the museum really worth a visit. Beautifully curated from a collection of 10,000 artefacts drawn from right across Asia, it traces the rich history of puppet theatre in the region.

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I also want to share an interesting interview with puppeteer Max Humphries, whose work is largely inspired by Japanese Bunraku. In an article. No strings Attached by Max Dorey 4429097for Exuent, Dorey talks about the anatomy of the puppet, the puppet as actor and the joys of working with no strings attached.

I believe in trying to achieve the best possible mechanisms for a puppets movement and manipulation; finding the line between the needs of the puppet, the puppeteer, the maker and the performance. My ideal would be a theatrical landscape in which the puppet is viewed as actor, without preconceptions

Fascinating, I recommend a read.

A Roaring Success

Lion King Las VegasAs those of you who read Theatre Room regularly will know that I’m no great fan of musical theatre.  There are however some exceptions, one being The Lion Kong. I first saw it in Los Angeles many years ago, and have been urging people to go and see it ever since. It first opened in Minneapolis in 1997, quickly transferring to Broadway. in 1999 it opened in London at the Lyceum Theatre, where it is till running 15 years later. In fact, it is currently playing in 10 cities world-wide. In its 17 years it has been seen by an estimated 75 million people and taken $6.2 billion, making it the highest grossing musical ever. Impressive figures indeed.


In a great article by David Gritten in The Telegraph, How The Lion King became the most successful stage show of all time he quite rightly points to the original director, Julie Taymor, as the creative genius behind the show.

It’s easy to overlook, what with all the trumpeting of huge grosses and audience figures, what a radical piece of theatre The Lion King is, and always was.

Credit for this goes to the prime mover of this stage version, director Julie Taymor, who came from avant-garde, ritual and experimental theatre, and had already used masks and puppetry in other productions. Taymor also helped design the costumes for the Lion King, and even wrote the lyrics for one of its songs, Endless Night.


She has created a world that is fiercely non-literal, often to moving and wondrous effect. She makes no attempt to disguise the fact that these animals are moved and performed by humans. A drought on the African plain is conveyed by a circle of blue silk gradually vanishing by being pulled through a hole in the stage. When a lioness weeps, she pulls lengths of white ribbon from her eyes. Taymor evokes a waterfall using a huge sheet of billowing silk. A score of actors stride on stage, boxes on their head with long grass sprouting from them; this is Taymor’s way of representing the African savannah.

Simba - Nicholas Nkuna and the Original UK touring company.JPG

All of which seems a long way from the animated film and video of The Lion King, which proved immensely successful for Disney in the 1990s. They’re agreeable entertainments, based on a hero-myth story redolent of Hamlet. As a young lion cub, Simba is hoodwinked by his malevolent uncle Scar into believing he was responsible for his father the king Mufasa’s death. Simba flees before returning as an adult to reclaim his birthright from Scar, who has installed himself as king.


This is all fine as far as it goes, yet there’s a cosiness and reassurance about the film that Taymor withholds; in the stage version there is simply more at stake, along with a recognition that life is fragile. She also gave far greater emphasis to the film’s female characters. There’s a tough-mindedness about her method of story-telling; it’s surprising that Disney, to its great credit, approved such a radical reboot of the film.

Gritten’s article is well worth a read in its entirety here.  Another one, this time by Adam Sherwin here in The Independent explores the money-making side of the The Lion King. Apparently Sirs Tim Rice and Elton John, the composers and librettists of the musical, have made a whopping US$120 million apiece from the show!

To finish with,  it was recently announced that Disney have adapted the musical for schools which will be licensed for performance from January 2015. Disney, Rice and John will no doubt need to get deeper pockets.

By way of a post script, I should say that the show’s appeal for me is the ingenious way in which the animal characters have been brought to life with puppetry.  The man behind most of the puppets is Michael Curry, and there are a couple of interesting interviews with him here and here about his work on the show .

Walking In The Footsteps Of Giants

s_r18_71390039One of the most fascinating companies that has been gaining an international reputation in the last few years is Royal de Luxe. Founded in 1979 by writer and director Jean-Luc Courcoult, the company has played to 18 million spectators in more than 170 cities across the globe. In and of itself, this is impressive, but it is the nature of their work that makes them extraordinary. The company, based in Nantes, France, create giant, and I mean giant, puppets that appear in site-specific shows which take over whole cities, the narrative played out in front of thousands of people at a time. They have a reputation of being one of the best street theatre companies in the world and it isn’t hard to see why. Theatre critic Lynn Gardner, gave one of their shows, Sea Odessy, a five-star rating, and spoke about the audience reaction thus:

Look at the faces of the audience and you see wonder.

Yes, this is a spectacle, but one that in its simple storytelling, skilled manipulations of the lifelike puppets (the little girl seems steeped in watchful sadness; her dog gamboling through the streets, his tongue lolling) and playful changes of scale offers a theatrical experience that is both epic and intimate, joyful and sometimes sad. Follow it through, rather than just glimpsing it as a carnival-style parade, and you become as much invested in it as you do in King Lear, and as admiring of the craft and imagination employed to put it together.


It’s certainly a marvel, but it is not just the extraordinary feats of engineering that hold the attention. These giants may dwarf us and even our great cities…….but it is human endeavour that animates them.

Tiny figures in wine-coloured coats crawl across the bodies of the little girl and diver like Lilliputians. Each step of the diver takes gargantuan human efforts. The result is inclusive theatre where young and old rub shoulders with the giants. We walk together in their footsteps, and we walk taller because they are with us.

If your French is any good, there is a fabulous documentary about the company and their work:


Another one, this time in English, from the BBC, covers a 2012 visit of the company to Liverpool, UK, as part of the 100 year commemorations of the sinking of The Titanic


What I love about their work is not just the sheer scale of it, but the way they bring theatre to a much wider audience.  Theatre critic Catherine Usher commented that:

The Sea Odyssey Giant Spectacular tapped into something very special in terms of public reception and makes extremely significant steps towards a successful future for large-scale street theatre…..

The reactions that both Usher and Gardner speak about are evident here in this video. Royal de Luxe are truly a global company having performed in a diversity of countries – from Vietnam to Chile, Iceland to Australia – the list is long and impressive. Not all their performances include The Giants, but never the less they certainly have a global reach, as this set of images from The Atlantic shows.


The latest performance for The Giants is happening this weekend, again in the city of Liverpool in the UK, which seems to have taken the company and their puppets to it’s heart. This time, as part of the commemorations of World War I.

For BBC Arts, Actor Sue Johnston, from Liverpool herself,  has written about the emotional power of these now iconic giant marionettes:

Growing up in the 1960s and spending so many years in the world of entertainment, I have seen and been part of some incredible things……I have been lucky enough to have had some experiences that I will remember for ever.

But one of the things I will never forget came two years ago, when alongside tens of thousands of people from my hometown, I took to the streets to follow a 30ft wooden ‘giant’, her uncle and her dog around the streets of Liverpool.

The city truly fell in love with those characters, and the French artists – Royal De Luxe – who brought them to life.

On that occasion, the giants came to Liverpool to mark the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic – a seismic moment in history and certainly for the city, where so many of the crew from the ship were from. Some questioned if these giants were an appropriate way to commemorate such a disaster.

Royal de Luxe

They were proved spectacularly wrong.

This week, Royal De Luxe return to the city, and this time to mark something even bigger in our history – the centenary of WW1.Liverpool was the birthplace of the Pals regiments – groups of friends who, with the words of Lord Derby and Kitchener ringing in their ears, signed up together to go on an adventure abroad from which so few of them ever returned. Over the course of the coming years, there will be hundreds of commemorations around that terrible war – some big national moments and some small intimate affairs – but for me, it is this performance – titled Memories of 1914 – which I know will be as powerful as anything which will follow it.

Artistic endeavour such as this – big, bold and exciting – is a vital way for us to mark key historical events, no matter how sombre. They engage our senses and emotions in a way that other forms of commemoration would never be able to, and they break down barriers of age, class and race effortlessly. What is so compelling for me about Royal De Luxe is the way that they take the art to the people rather than wait for the people to come to them.

Between them, the three giants who will be in the city this week – the little girl and her dog again, but this time joined by a brand new grandmother giant – will travel a total of 30 miles around the city, going down the streets of forgotten terraces, past the two incredible cathedrals which hug the Merseyside skyline, and into parks quite a way off of the beaten track.

Vielle Geante (Old Giant), a puppet in the Royal de Luxe street theatre production Le Mur de Planck

This spectacle will engage and impact more people in this story, than any normal form of commemoration ever could, getting people to invest in something they didn’t even know they should care about.

Art can do this. It can touch us, thrill us, enrage us and engage us in things we might otherwise just let us pass by or choose to ignore. It makes us look and think differently about ourselves, where we live, our history and our future.

I have been lucky enough to be at the centre of some of those moments myself, but this week I am looking forward to experiencing it again, like everyone else. Being one of the million people who are due to come together to commemorate, pay our respects and reflect on the ultimate sacrifice, by being brought together by a giant girl, her grandmother and a dog.

Only art will ever be able to do that.

What Johnston doesn’t mention is that the puppets are so large that the company employ local volunteers wherever they perform to be assistant puppeteers, otherwise known as Lilliputians. One such volunteer is Colin Bordley, who talks about his experiences here.

I’ll leave the final words to their creator, Jean-Luc Courcoult, explaining how his characters come to life:


Shadows Of The Empire

I find myself in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo this week and as coincidences go this is a good one.  On the way here I came across an article in The Wall Street Journal about shadow puppet theatre – but with a difference. Entitled Star Wars as Shadow Play, the writer John Krich  talks about a new shadow play called Peperangan Bintang, which translates from the Malay into Star Wars. str2_cn_2710_cnbintang_A

In the article Krich outlines a three-year old project by Tintoy Chuo to find a new, younger audience for the ancient Malaysian art of Wayang Kulit:

George Lucas credits the success of his Hollywood blockbusters in part to traditional forms of mythmaking. Now, his storytelling is coming full circle. Those heroes and villains from “a galaxy, far, far away” have landed in Malaysia with the mission of reviving its traditional art of the “shadow play.”

“I’m trying to combine the traditional with the high-tech to find a unique way to preserve Malaysian culture,” says originator Tintoy Chuo. “I myself sometimes find shadow play too long and boring. But this is something cool that young people can relate to. Even my mom knows ‘Star Wars.'”

A 25-minute preview of “Peperangan Bintang” (Malay for “Star Wars”) premiered last October. Drawing on the first of the films to be released—whose full title is “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”—it features Sangkala Vedeh (Powerful General Vedeh, or Darth Vader), Perantau Langit (He Who Walks in the Sky, or Luke Skywalker) and Puteri Leia (Princess Leia), plus the familiar squeaking robots, augmented by banging gongs and screeching horns, eerie graphics, dramatic recitations and sound effects of heavy breathing and robotic squeaks. Mr. Chuo is still working on turning it into a full-length shadow play, usually 1½ hours.

“I thought it was a brilliant idea from the start,” says the retiring president of the Star Wars Malaysia Fan Club, Adi Azhar Abdul Majid. The club of 200 paying members—”from architects to kids who flip burgers,” says Mr. Adi, a former lawyer and freelance professional emcee—stages movie marathons and garage sales of memorabilia to support local charities. With the fan club’s help, Mr. Chuo was able to contact Mr. Lucas’s Lucasfilm, which said through a spokeswoman that Mr. Chuo’s “art was beautiful” and “was impressed with his passion for ‘Star Wars.’ ” Lucasfilm said it has offered to put Mr. Chuo’s photos in its fan publication, Bantha Tracks.

It was three years back that Mr. Chuo, 42 years old and a father of three, first struck on the idea of redesigning Luke Skywalker and the gang in shadow-play style. He raised funds by selling T-shirts displaying his fantastical hybrid creations. He seems perfectly suited to the project: By profession he’s a “character creator,” designing creatures for use in games, advertisements and other applications. But in the end he decided he needed help from a shadow-play “jedi.”


“At first, I made them in plastic with lasers,” Mr. Chuo says. “Soon, I realized I needed to find a real puppet master to help me stage a performance.” A long search across rural villages ended with a Facebook inquiry from Muhammad Dain bin Othman, 62, a shadow-play master known familiarly as “Pak,” or Uncle, Dain. “That Christmas,” Mr. Chuo recounts, “I saw my first shadow play and he watched his first DVD of ‘Star Wars.’ ”

Pak Dain’s conclusion: “It’s a simple story, not difficult.”

The master soon helped Mr. Chuo fashion 10 puppets the old-fashioned way, of cowhide, the holes made by nails. Pak Dain’s only hesitation was over his reputation for authenticity. He decided it was acceptable to adapt “Star Wars” because tradition allows “outside stories” to augment main mythic plot outlines. “Nobody has complained so far,” Pak Dain explains, because musical themes specific to the Hindu characters Rama and Sita were changed.

“I told him that if some found us inauthentic, I would take the blame as the Chinese guy,” Mr. Chuo says.

Hailing from the Tumpat district of Malaysia’s northern state of Kelantan, a shadow-play hotbed, Pak Dain was taught by three learned masters and began mounting performances in the 1980s. He retired in 2008, but kept a connection, pouring his money into training musicians to keep alive this art that was once a regular feature of weddings and village celebrations. Unable to perform, he opened a Kota Bharu gallery for the puppets. It is estimated there are only 10 surviving master puppeteers around Kelantan, where the form of theater was adapted from Indian sources. Compared with the better-known Indonesia version, Malaysian wayang kulit features rounder, more transparent figures—colors shine through the silhouettes. The characters have one movable arm, as compared with two in Indonesia.


The slow and relatively static performances have lost ground to movies, television and videogames. Today, the Malaysian shadow play is performed mainly for tourists in the Cultural Center of Kota Bharu, Kelantan’s state capital. One of the motives for basing a production on a Hollywood legend is, in Pak Dain’s words, to “change the mood” of authorities by “showing that shadow play doesn’t just belong to Rama.”

Though he’d like more funding to improve backdrop effects and perform overseas, Pak Dain says he will “continue to sacrifice a lot because we all love it and we want to promote it to the younger generation.”

This put a huge smile on my face for a number of  reasons. One, the attempt to keep, revive even, a traditional theatrical form like Wayang Kulit is admirable and innovative on Chuo’s part. Two, as contemporary theatre is using the big screen to widen its audience base, I am taken by the idea that the world of cinema is finding a place on the ‘theatrical screen’. Three, I have to admit I’m a Stars Wars fan – but of the original films, not the dross that Lucas produced later


Tintoy Chuo and his team have been working hard to publicise their work. Firstly an interview with Chuo, Take Huat, Pak Dain and Ahmad Azrai by Gloria Kurnik about the project, which you can watch here.  Secondly, Chuo and Huat took part in the TEDx event in Kula Lumpur, and spoke about their work:


There is also a Facebook Page which follows the development of the project, which is planned to be finished – a full length Wayang Kulit piece – by the end of the year. There is a little trailer here, which just made grin from ear to ear, especially the scene with R2-D2 and C-3PO


1479328_634266829961483_1618726353_nThe fact that traditional techniques of puppet making and puppeteering are the centre of this effort is heartening, as is the use of traditional Malay instruments to play the soundtrack. Also, there is an alignment of characters with those in the traditional Wayang Kulit stories, which will hopefully widen the appeal. On the flip side, when the New Straits Times wrote about the venture, they did so on their ‘Tech’ pages, because of the computer generated visual effects being used.

This truly is fusion in so many ways.

Something About Judy

This week I have been watching my Theatre Arts students give a variety of presentations on theatre traditions originating from their own cultures. Teaching in an international school means that these are always wonderfully varied. What struck me this time however, were the number of students who had identified puppet theatre forms. This got me thinking again about the resurgence of puppetry. I then read this article, by Beccy Smith, in Exeunt. In it she ponders the attraction to a modern audience. Smith, as well as being a dramaturg and writer, runs a company called Touched Theatre who are performing a piece called Blue at the Suspense Festival in London.

What is it about puppets that so captures the contemporary imagination? In recent years life-size horses have stormed the West End, a decidedly larger-than-life elephant has paraded down the Mall and beautifully crafted figures of myriad shapes and sizes have entertained audiences in touring theatres up and down the country. Of course, as an art-form puppetry is not new: forms like Greek Karagoz and Indonesian Wayang Kulik can be traced back to ancient times and even our ‘own’ Mr Punch boasts a fairly impressive lineage from as far back as the writing of Pepys diaries and probably beyond. But a growing interest in puppetry has made itself felt of late and there’s a distinct sense that this oldest of theatrical languages is returning en vogue…..What puppetry draws together in these disparate strands is an emphasis on visual storytelling, on expressing meaning through action and image that I think speaks particularly vividly to contemporary audiences versed in media imagery and embodied theatrical languages.


I started to get especially interested in the connections between puppetry and other performance languages when making a show called Headcase, in 2011 which was collaboration between a dancer and a puppeteer. The show set out to portray the emotional experiences of teenagers experiencing mental heath difficulties which were themselves difficult to articulate by their sufferers but which we found, by working with the young people over a period of time, could be effectively expressed through movement and gesture. We discovered that dancers have an intuitive understanding of puppetry because of the formal qualities they share in portraying feeling and idea through movement and rhythm (we also learned a lot about the age-old connections of puppetry and therapy, but that’s another article).

Puppetry has the exceptional ability to combine within itself the abstract with the specific. Puppet figures, embodied as bug-eyed capering monsters or delicately floating wraiths, present character with engaging immediacy. Puppets can talk – sometimes you can’t shut them up – they can do text from Shakespeare to Beckett though they are decidedly not literate because so much of the meaning they convey is expressed through their material form – how they look, how they move, what they are made of. For puppets subtext is in the body. The pretensions of a hero are punctured by his being made out of sponge; a romantic heroine’s mortality is embedded in the fragile paper of which she’s formed. Puppetry is able to borrow the most powerful elements of a range of art forms – the rich metaphors of of the visual arts, the dynamic expressiveness of dance, the detailed articulacy of poetry. They’re a wonderful theatre mongrel for a post post modern audience versed in Brecht and Lecoq.

And what is most powerful of course is puppetry’s status as shared fantasy. The wiling suspension of disbelief is in-built to this form and central to its magic, its emotional resonance. In making Blue, the new interactive mystery we ail be opening at SUSPENSE, we wanted to test out how close to the audience we could bring our puppets and still invite them to take an imaginative leap. Blue explores working with audiences moving though different spaces on the hunt to discover what has happened to a missing young woman …… and this amplifies the storytelling power of the placement and disclosure of puppets and objects. Whilst our array of suspects characters speak much but reveal little, the memory, metaphor and magic that power the story’s real action express themselves through the puppetry and video that haunt their spaces.

You might argue that the appeal of puppetry to today’s audiences is as a way to step out of some of the grimmer realities of our current realities, to reach for the fantasy and playfulness of childhood, but my feeling is that the artistic riches of the art form empower it as a vehicle through which to plumb the depths and articulate the heights of human experience – a range that’s much in evidence in the lovingly crafted programme at this year’s SUSPENSE.

Breathing Life

Peter Glanville

Peter Glanville

My first post today is a follow-up to an earlier one, On A Wing And A Prayer, about a puppet production of Macbeth and puppetry for adults. Theatre Voice has just interviewed Macbeth’s director Peter Glanville who talks about the show, puppetry in general and its popularity and you can listen to the interview here:

Director Peter Glanville talks puppets and puppetry

It is a worth while listen, as he talks about Bunraku as a puppetry form and why there is a trend for creating puppet theatre for adults. You are left in no doubt that puppetry is a thriving world theatre form that is increasingly being embraced by theatre critics and audiences alike. Long may this continue.


In the interview, reference is made to the Suspense Festival, which Glanville started a few years ago, which focuses on puppetry that is specifically made for adult audiences. This year’s festival is about to open, featuring work from companies from a number of countries, much of which has toured internationally. Check who is performing here and just what a diverse range of puppetry style are being showcased.

On A Wing And A Prayer

Little-Angel-RSC-Tempest-c-Ellie-KurrtzSince I began Theatre Room, I have been following the work of a puppet company called Little Angel Theatre (LAT). It was established in 1961 and one of only three building-based puppet theatres in the UK and is often referred to as the home of British puppetry. Their history is fascinating, with one of the original founders, puppet designer and maker Lyndie Wright, still working with the company 50 years on. In 2011 they collaborated with the Royal Shakespeare Company on a production of the Tempest to much critical acclaim. Their latest production is verytweet much an adult orientated production of Macbeth which has had the twitter-sphere in raptures.

Macbeth-show-pageYou can watch a lovely interview here with Lyndie Wright talking about how she designed the puppets:


And then Artistic Director Peter Glanville talking about directing the production:


Marionette puppet theatre is common across much of Europe, particularly in the more eastern states, so it is great to see this tradition thriving and developing in the UK. LAT runs its own blog which is really interesting and you can read it here.

Yesterday, there was an entry about costuming Macbeth, written by the costume designer for the show, Keith Frederick, which I found particularly interesting.

For quite some time now, puppet theatre has focused on direct contact puppetry, where the puppeteer is in full view of the audience and their performance completely exposed.  With this in mind, and from a personal point of view, the shows that work for me the most are those where the puppeteers are not just in blacks but in costume. Costumes that are well considered for the piece that have the ability, not only to add to a story and set a tone, but also have the to blend in and disappear, having a chameleon effect. Shows like War Horse…….. are excellent exponents of this effect.

So, when I was asked to design and make the costumes for the puppeteers in LAT”s newest adult production of Shakespeare’s Scottish play (yes, I am stupidly superstitious) I accepted the mantle of making their mantles!


To look similar but distinguishable from each other.

Contemporary and simple silhouette.

Fitted yet non-restrictive

Words  = Bird & Witch

Colour = Black

Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and puppeteers

Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and puppeteers

For this production of the Scottish play the puppeteers are characters in their own right, the three witches, and the perfect starting point for the design process in making their costumes. Lyndie Wright, who has designed and made the puppets, referenced some shapes for me to work with and in a very short space of time talking together we had decided on a silhouette. With the brief and silhouette in mind I went away and sketched up several options that would fit in with the set and the puppets, using design elements from each.

Although working with a contemporary silhouette I have used style lines and treatments with an Elizabethan feel that harken back to the period.  Using hem, sleeve, collar and seam detail variations I have tried to make each costume look different yet gel as a collective. As the puppeteers are all dressed in same silhouette and colour I hope the differences are distinguishable enough to stand out yet still subtle enough to disappear. Once the designs and fabrics were chosen and approved the next step was to translate them into patterns.

The Witches with puppeteer

The Witches with puppeteer

I have drafted three blocks (basic patterns) one for each puppeteer, each a different size, and made jersey and calico toiles (mock ups) in the chosen designs. The next stage in the process is to get the fit right and apply the style lines. This is the most crucial part of the process, the most time-consuming, and can mean several toiles (mock ups) to get it right. Once this is done the patterns can be cut in the fabrics chosen and made up. After a final fitting linings, hems and final details can be finished to complete the garment. From start to finish making the garments should take me about two weeks… however!

Last night was press night and I very much look forward to reading the reviews.’m