The Bristol Festival of Puppetry 2009
Alissa Mello reports on a new event on the UK puppetry calendar
2009 marked the launch of a new festival in the UK, The Bristol Festival of Puppetry, organised and produced by the recently re-established Puppet Place . The festival brought together an international programme of performances for family and adult audiences, professional’s day including workshops and symposia, film, an exhibition, and concluded with a day of carnival and street theatre.
I had the pleasure of being a participant as a member of ‘The P Word’ panel, and in the audience for six of the productions. The festival had a lively, community feel with many members of the audience and the artists congregating at The Tobacco Factory for pre- and post- show food, drink, and numerous lively conversations about the art of puppet theatre. Generally, the festival was both fun and an exciting place to see innovative performance whilst offering opportunities to interact with interesting people across a spectrum of the theatre-going and theatre-making communities. This atmosphere was, I suggest, a reflection of the warmth and dedication of the organisers, particular Rachel McNally and Chris Pirie, whose goal it is to support and nurture the art puppetry in the South West.
The productions that I saw were an eclectic mix of emerging and established companies representing a range of aesthetic and material interests in contemporary puppet theatre making. Two productions emerged from co-productions between Pickled Image and Nordland Visual Theatre. Houdini’s Suitcase, created (in 2006) and performed by Dik Downey and Vicky Andrews, explores age, memory, youth, and war buried in a pile of old suitcases. Hunger created in 2009, was designed and directed by Dik Downey and Vicky Andrews, and performed by TinkerTing a Norwegian based puppet theatre company. The production is a visual and minimally verbal adaptation of Knut Hamson novel published in 1890 about the romantic delusions of a young, starving poet. Continuing in this dark theatrical vein was Jonny Dixon’s re-imagining of the classic tale Peter and the Wolf – exploring innocence in the face of war. Full Beam Visual Theatre moved us to the home front in My Baby Just Cares for Me as a young woman, Catherine, struggles to cope with life, her father’s Alzheimer’s, and his eventual death. On the lighter side was Richard by the Belgium based company Chemins de Terre, and an evening of three short pieces: King Pest & Night Flyer by The Paper Cinema & Kieron Maguire; Norkus by Wattle & Daub Figure Theatre (a recent addition to the Bristol Puppet scene); and Chicken Club by Marc Parrett.
In conjunction with the performances was a series of talks, workshops and exhibition exploring contemporary puppetry in and out of the mainstream, offering a chance to get one’s hands dirty with the folks at Aardman, and space to be inspired by the work of local artists. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the closing day carnival and street theatre events, but heard it went splendidly.
The festival was impressively marketed and drew near or full capacity houses for at least each of the productions I attended. Despite one building issue necessitating shifting around of shows, and I believe the unfortunate cancellation of a show or two, the festival ran smoothly. Producers, artists, and audiences were warm, enthusiastic, and supportive creating a lively environment for dialogue and theatre going.