Edward Taylor reports on an enterprising festival
held in Segovia, Spain, May 2008
My company (Whalley Range All Stars) are in the Plaza de Azoguejo in Segovia. It’s 8.45 in the morning and we’ve got an early start putting up our large Pig for performances later in the morning. As we work there is a queue behind us waiting patiently for a building to open its doors. We assume the queue consists of people with rent and other council-related problems but in fact they are waiting to buy tickets for Titirimundi – an eight-day-long puppet festival that features indoor and outdoor shows by 46 companies from all over the world. The festival also sells groups on to other towns and cities. Some companies have over three weeks’ solid work in and around the festival.
In Spain, puppets are seen as legitimate popular entertainment, for the whole community – a feeling reinforced when we go and see Poemas Visuales by the Catalan puppeteer Jordi Bertran in a big civic theatre. The place is packed out with young and old. Three performers take the stage behind a table, they open up a book from which white sponge letters escape and come to life. The show is a series of sketches developing this idea. The highlight is a lengthy scene where the letter Y attempts to jump off a diving board into a bowl of water accompanied by Jordi Bertran himself on guitar. The Y is manipulated with such skill that it comes alive in front of you and its bolshy attitude ensures that they wring every last bit of comic potential out of the scene. The show was perhaps a little too long overall but it was definitely a good night out, and it was wonderful to see puppet theatre performed in front of such a large mixed audience.
Outside we caught Joan Baixas’ Merma Nunca Muere roaming the streets. Baixas was the artistic leader of La Claca, a very famous Spanish company who worked with Joan Miro. The full-body costumes are Miro paintings come to life: the figures strut around like parodies of important civic dignitaries accompanied by drums and ear-shredding bombardes. (The bombarde is a double reed cousin of the oboe.) They are abstract in look and roughly but artfully made. When they travel to the performance space sitting in open-topped 50s cars the contrast between the plum coloured vehicle and the figure in white splattered with paint is most effective. Normally walkabout acts where the visuals are all that’s going on can be dreary beyond belief, but these living Miro figures have real power.
Les Ateliers du Spectacle (from France) performed A Distances in a church fitted with raked seating. Their 80-minute show was almost the polar opposite of Joan Baixas. It was a series of scenes that used small machines, intricately set-up effects, a poetic language which used objects to change the meanings of single words, and tiny sounds miked up to sound enormous. The performing space was large but with clever stagecraft they narrowed your focus right down so that a small light on a small stage captured your attention. Several scenes recreated the poems of Paul Valery in a visual form. Not all of it worked, but it had a technical virtuosity that you just don’t see in the UK.
British puppeteer Rod Burnett was there with his traditional Punch and Judy show. One of my favourite moments was seeing him after the show with Mr Punch who was being hugged and kissed by two small Spanish children. Given Punch’s reputation (during the show he had fed a baby into a mincer), it was both macabre and sweet in effect.