Profile by Penny Francis
you wanted to imagine a list of qualifications for running a
successful modern theatre company using puppetry as its prime
expressive medium, the following might serve well: training
and practical experience in corporal skills, mime, mask, clowning,
musicianship, model-making, stage management, acting, light,
sound. And, of course a deal of professional work in puppetry
making and manipulation. The two directors of Garlic Theatre,
founded in 1996, have all of these, and Mark Pitman and Iklooshar
Malara run one of England’s best companies in the field.
Mark has trained with Lecoq in Paris and Barry Smith in England,
and says these two have been his strongest influences and inspiration.
Apprenticed as a lad to an industrial model-making firm, he
learned about the properties of very many materials such as
Perspex, fibreglass, plastics and wood. In his spare time he
joined a dramatic club as stage manager, set-builder and light
and soundman. Gradually he became interested in performance,
particularly mime and mask work, and in 1982 went to Paris to
learn from the best teacher in the world - Jacques Lecoq. Puppet
theatre seemed like a natural progression, bringing together
all his skills in one art form. He joined the Norwich Puppet
Theatre in 1986, where, on Ray DaSilva’s retirement, Barry
Smith took over for a turbulent and fruitful time as artistic
director. Mark taught construction, manipulation and mask work
at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London from 1995-2001
although nowadays his company is busy enough for him to give
only an occasional session there. There are many ex-students
- not only puppetry students - who will tell you how much they
owe to him. He is also in demand as a freelance director.
Steeped in music, Iklooshar Malara plays the violin and piano
and has composed and arranged all the soundtracks for the shows
to date. Her skills as an actor-puppeteer are formidable, as
is her charm. Her main influences have been from her training
with Philippe Genty, Angela de Castro and Gaulier. She graduated
in English from Oxford University and worked as an assistant
film editor before touring with small-scale theatre companies
in the UK as an actress and musician. She became enthralled
with the potential of puppetry when she toured as a musician
with Faulty Optic and decided to take artistic control and found
her own company as Garlic Puppet Theatre. The first meeting
with Mark was in 1994 when she went for a job at Norwich Puppet
Theatre and Mark was on the panel. The session ended with a
new twinkle in Mark’s eye. (Yes, she got the job but turned
it down.) They got together a year later, decided they could
work and live together, and now there are two children, Kai
(6) and Esme, born last year. Garlic is one of a talented group
of companies working with puppetry in East Anglia, closely connected
with the Puppet Theatre and its many activities under the charismatic
leadership of Luís Z. Boy.
Garlic Puppet Theatre’s first show Rapunzel, was performed
by Iklooshar and Hindi- speaking Stewart Fraser; they did a
whirlwind tour of Norfolk primary schools before a successful
debut at the International Puppetry Festival in Pakistan followed
by a three month tour of India. Mark was peripherally involved
as ‘part-director’ and performer for the UK tour.
Iklooshar then needed a new working partner and she and Mark
cemented the partnership: they applied as Garlic Theatre to
the lottery-funded small grants scheme Arts for All and were
awarded £5000 to make a new show, George and the Dragon.
The money was used to engage Mark Bell, also Lecoq trained,
and Joy Haynes of the Banyan Theatre company as directors. ‘George
was a success from the word go’ says Mark. It is still
in the repertoire, has toured extensively at home and to sixteen
countries abroad and has won several prizes.
The company does not believe in standing still; every show is
different in approach, in means of expression, in style of performance.
Their second, Sindbad the Sailor, experimented and played with
objects and orientalism, and they chose Sean Myatt as director.
Next they staged a Flea Circus, something Mark had always wanted
to do, thanks to Michael Bentine, the Goon, who gave a talk
about his life and his own flea circus which he toured in the
80s. His reminiscences inspired Mark and appealed to his sense
of humour, and the Flea Circus has become Garlic’s favourite
and most challenging show to date. Surreal, comic and strange,
it is spoken in a nonsense language and is about the love/hate
relationships between a Fleamaster, his favourite Flea and the
jealous musician (Iklooshar) who accompanies their show. It
is Garlic’s succès d’estime where George
is the popular choice. Both depend on clowning as well as puppetry
and music, and both share a nucleus of interplay between the
two human characters.
By this time Garlic’s work had started to attract Arts
Council funding, increased for Fiddlesticks, this time a vehicle
for Iklooshar as solo performer. It’s a heart-warming
show about music and Iklooshar’s relationship with a broken
violin, a character designed by the Czech puppeteer Michaela
Bartonova of the Tineola company of Prague, and beautifully
crafted by Mark. It was the first time they had worked with
a designer, and the experience was so positive that Michaela
was engaged for their next and latest production, The Sorcerer’s
Apprentice. By this time the second child was on the way, bringing
them good fortune in the shape of an enhanced grant from Arts
Council England East and another award for workshops in local
schools on the Creative Partnerships initiative (also ACE East)
Sorcerer is currently touring widely. Mark Pitman is the solo
performer and has added to his array of skills that of magician.
(Kai is in training to follow in his dad’s footsteps,
at least where the magic is concerned.) See the Sorcerer’s
Apprentice if you can, and discover whether it will visit a
theatre near you by looking on the Puppet Guild website and
its excellent round-up of What’s On: [link to] www.puppetguild.org.uk.
It may well be another popular success for Garlic. George and
the Dragon and Fiddlesticks are still in the repertoire and
Future plans? Another solo by Iklooshar, this time for the under-fives;
and their first production for an adult audience: a non-narrative
piece performed by professional singers and puppeteers to be
premiered at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival in 2006.
The sun is shining brightly on this attractive company, and
on present form will surely continue.