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Shona Reppe Puppets - Little by Little. Profile by Penny Francis

Shona Reppe is one of the handful of people responsible for Scotland’s notable emergence as a force in British puppetry. Animations first profiled her work five years ago – and we thought it high time we caught up with her. At a meeting organised about six years ago by Simon Hart, to raise the Scots puppeteers’ awareness of the value of UNIMA, the name of Shona Reppe (pronounced Repper, or nearly – a Norwegian family name), kept coming up, as example of a shining new talent.

Shona has indeed done a lot to set the Scottish ball rolling. An ebullient and vivacious personality, she is a producer and performer of original and popular work. After five years interval and the birth of a baby girl two years ago, she is still in demand and working on interesting initiatives.

Her version of Cinderella has become a classic, still touring to many countries, including Japan where it goes down very well, since the Japanese “like little things, and the show is neat and small-scale and well-designed”.

The response to Cinderella has been amazing, and she attributes much of its universal appeal to Ian Cameron, who she chose to direct it for his extraordinary invention and sense of fun. Another creative contributor to its popularity was Gill Robertson of Catherine Wheels Theatre, as choreographer and co-director. She believes this kind of outside eye, a trusted collaborator, is essential to any production. Another constant feature is herself, incorporated as one of the characters, and a variety of puppet types. 

While in Canada some three years ago, the two directors of France’s Velo Theatre company, Charlot Lemoine and Tania Lestaing, saw it in a festival, and at the same event Shona saw their Envelopes and Parcels (Envelopes et Deballages), also a classic of the genre. After a couple of years of mutual admiration and recognising their common approach to animated objects in performance, they decided to do a show together.

Meanwhile Shona was producing other work, Tom Thumb and Little Red Hen, working on her own but with technical backup from her drummer partner Tamlin. In early 2006, heavily pregnant, she invited Charlot Lemoine to her home outside Edinburgh and they worked fruitfully on a new show for a week. Daughter Minnie was born in March, after which she went to the Velos’ home outside Apt in the south of France, having secured funding for the new project, to be called Olga Volt – The Electric Fairy. Working in lovely surroundings, where the Velos have a theatre as well as a home, she was able, with Charlot, to focus on the development of the work.

The Scottish Arts Council, says Shona, shows a rare understanding of the particular needs of puppeteers, especially in the making of a new production, which demands more time to build and to rehearse than a show with human actors. A small company needs to cease touring and performing – since the puppets can’t do it on their own - in order properly to concentrate on the new work, but without income generation, the financial problems can be overwhelming. Both the show on tour and the projected show suffer. In this as in so many other concerns, puppetry has specific needs.

Olga Volt is different in style from Cinderella and indeed from all Shona’s other shows. It toured Scotland last year in Hart’s Puppet Animation Festival and met with success. It is, she says, “very visual” although with more text than is usual for her shows. As always Shona herself features as a character (she is the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella). It’s about electricity and in particular the family of Olga Volt. Olga is an electric fairy married to Fernando Watt, both circus travellers. Her great-great-great-great grandmother was a falling star whose energy has been passed down the generations. Olga uses it in her circus act, but her efforts usually go wrong, and the bloopers are used to drive the story forward.

Shona is home from France now (summer 2008), working on her next production, which is conceived for the very young. This time her out-front collaborator is Andy Manley. The show’s working title is Potato Needs a Bath. In spite of that it’s developing well, and the auguries for its success are extremely good!

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Image credits:
Top and centre: Olga Volt – The Electric Fairy
Bottom: Cinderella
All images courtesy of Shona Reppe

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