Shadow Puppets & Shadow Play
Reviewed by Penny Francis
A most attractive book by David Currell, designed by Shane O’Dwyer –printed on good paper with dozens of colour and black and white photographs – that deserves to be on the shelf of any puppeteer remotely interested in the genre.
It is no longer the exclusively shadow puppet player who employs shadows in his or her work: as Currell says, shadows, silhouettes, experiments with colour, light and shade serve many dramaturgical purposes, for example as background scenery or action, as dreams or abstract imagined sequences. The book is inspirational in that regard, as much through the choice of pictures as in the writing, and should result in even more use of the shadow or silhouette than we see already.
The first two chapters contain a brief survey of different kinds of shadows, and a narrative of their historical development. This is a clear, non-academic approach which could lead the enthusiast to further reading, and I regret the absence of a Bibliography. However there is an appended list of contact organisations and specialist book retailers which partially fulfils the needs of the researcher.
The remaining nine chapters are an exploration of various methods of designing and building a shadow puppet entertainment, with one that is especially interesting called ‘Contemporary Explorations’ in which the work and ideas of contemporary puppeteers of note is illustrated and techniques explained. Currell’s chief sources are of the calibre of Bradshaw, Leith, Phillips, DaSilva, Doran and Jonathan Hayter (whose work features most prominently). He does of course refer to many others, such as Souhami of England, Gioco Vita of Italy and Lescot of France. In the section on Silhouette films the work of Lotte Reiniger is, as you would expect, supreme.
Currell’s own technical expertise features in the instructions of how to make, for instance, various puppet mechanisms, shadow puppet staging, and choices in lighting.
The book, then, is an amalgam of coffee table, ‘how to’ and example, most useful to those setting out as practitioners, but a pleasure to look at and to own, especially if you are entering the domain of puppetry and look for inspiration and know-how.