Making Michael


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DNA co-founder Adam Bennett shares his thoughts on developing the puppetry on ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’ for Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Adam Bennett, the puppeteer, is genuinely brilliant- truly, he makes some white rags and a polystyrene head into something genuinely moving.- Katie Craig, Mumble Theatre

Being asked to develop the puppetry and contribute a key character as a puppet into a big main stage production is a challenge. There are so many unknowns even after developing a concept and discussing it with the director (Mark Thomson) and designer (Karen Tennant). I believe that it is always best if possible to begin rehearsal with the actual puppets and props that will be used in the performance. A puppeteer develops the performance exploring the movement and visual potential of what is in their hands, and any small changes makes a big difference to the potential.

design sketchHowever, with this production my concept of representing the baby with a piece of cloth at the beginning of the play and assembling a child onstage as the play progresses meant that I could only commission the very fundamental parts to bring to day one of rehearsals: I asked the excellent designer/maker Georgina Solo to construct a head and two sizes of bodies which could have arms and legs attached to it if necessary. The head needed to be able to be attached and detached from the body easily and quickly.

I envisioned a 3-stage process; at first Michael was simply a piece of cloth that could be tossed about carelessly as just another symbol of value in the self obsessed lives of the Governor and his wife. Only when Grusha arrives and sees it as a human being to be cared for and loved does the figure begin to take shape. First with a head emerging out of the cloth and then as the play progresses developing into a fully articulated figure.

puppet makingAs I discussed the design concept with Karen Tennant I wasn’t sure how much of the figure could be source from stage paraphernalia. The concept was ‘farmers holing up in an old theatre creating a  show from the old props and costumes lying around’. Within this concept I thought a beautifully made puppet may not fit.

Michael rises as Grusha stands undecided

photo Alan McCredie

Rehearsals quickly established that the play should definitely start with the baby portrayed by a simple piece of cloth, but working out when and how the head should appear proved tricky. It wasn’t finally settled until the 1st preview. The production features more than 40 minutes of live music and songs composed by Claire McKenzie, one of which which provided a heightened moment when the baby transforms into an ‘angel’ rising from the travel chest while Grusha stands undecided whether to take him with her or leave him to die.

Chalk Circle rehearsals

Head on hot water bottle with prototype arms and hands. Photo Aly Wight

Another exciting moment of discovery for me was when Grusha is ordered by the Governor’s Wife to fetch hot water bottles and I realised that a hot water bottle is exactly the right size, weight and temperature of a small baby. When I placed the bottle wrapped in cloth with the head attached into Grusha’s arms, actor Amy Manson immediately changed her physical and emotional relationship to it.


Michael in his ‘transitional state’. Photo Alan McCredie

Early in rehearsals I realised that found objects for arms and legs were not going to work for the design style and the performance style of the production that is developing. I asked for materials to make arms, legs, hands and feet. I needed to find an easy and quick method to attach the arms and legs to the body in full view of the audience. I hoped that it would be easy enough so that Amy would be happy to do it herself. I also wanted a transitional stage where the arms and legs were ‘half-formed’ floppy bits of cloth, but the body was taking shape.

A simple baby-grow outfit served as the transitional state, although it took a while to convince the director that it could be allowed in the world of the play. Mark Thomson needed to know where it had come from – much more than the head – but with Karen Tennant’s help we created a version that was acceptable.

After making Michael’s arms and legs I experimented with using magnets to join them to the body. This worked with the arms but not with the legs. I inserted the arms and hands into a small child’s hoodie jacket provided by the designer. She’d also settled on a christening dress as the piece of cloth at the beginning of the play. The legs required carabinas firmly glued to the top of the legs which could be quickly clipped onto the body and ensured that they couldn’t turn too far around at the same time. The legs were glued into a little pair of bib and brace trousers.

There was only so much puppetry I could work out during rehearsals and one brief scene required some extra hands to give the child full articulation. The excellent Jon Trenchard and Liam Gerrard helped out. It was fortunate that during rehearsals the Manipulate festival was happening in Edinburgh and reknowned director Sue Buckmaster was able to help out with a little puppet whispering, bringing Michael more fully into focus. Sue and I will be presenting one night of puppet whispering for the benefit of a paying audience on May 12th 2015 at BAC, Lavender Hill, London.The Puppet Whisperer advert



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Chicken Licken


Our classic touring show Chicken Licken is back on the road in England, Scotland and Wales this year. On our very first day of touring, Flossie Waite of Children’s Theatre Reviews came along and wrote this lovely piece about the show that she saw.

Originally posted on Children's Theatre Reviews:

Review written by Flossie Waite
Presented by DNA Puppetry and Visual Theatre
Half Moon Theatre
For ages 3 – 6

Chicken Licken does the seemingly impossible – appealing to 3 – 6 year olds and fans of The Great British Bake Off. Adam Bennett is the only star of this one-man cookery show, casually making bread – Mary Berry herself can’t match his self-assured style and natural relationship with the viewers. Though performing classic stories, the audience genuinely don’t know what is going to happen next, and even more remarkably, it seems Bennett might not either. He makes a production that has been around for 15 years feel as fresh as a newly-baked loaf.

That’s not to say Bennett is a master baker – he makes an awful (but delightful) mess. Throughout, however, he has the audience in the palm of his flour-covered hands. There’s an audible gasp and…

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Chicken Licken in Rehearsals

steve chick lickDNA Puppetry welcomes with warm hugs, Steve Tiplady for the new Chicken Licken tour 2015 in rehearsals at the Horse & Bamboo theatre, Rossendale, Lancashire. Steve & Adam are sharing the puppeteer role for this well loved one man show for the new tour, taking over from our previous Chicken Licken puppeteers Melvyn Rawlinson and Mark Whitaker.

Steve has worked with DNA at different times since the company began, creating experimental work for DNA Cabaret  in the early 90’sand specialist direction for ‘Puss in Boots’ in 2006.

Steve has an illustrious career in puppetry direction and performance, including recently  ‘The Firemakers Daughter’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘Jabberwocky’ at the Little Angel Theatre, London.

Thanks to Alison Duddle, Bob Frith and the team at the Boo for rehearsal support.

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On leaving Little Angel

Adam BennettDNA co-founder Adam Bennett has spent a large part 2014 at Little Angel Theatre in the role of Artistic Director and Chief Executive. In September he stepped down and is now working on projects with his own company DNA Puppetry and Visual theatre as well as freelancing as puppetry consultant, trainer and performer for Freedom Studios, Bradford and The Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh.

On Adam’s Tumblr he writes openly and passionately about his experience at Little Angel and reflects upon the tension between artistic expression and commercial output.


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The Great Puppet Party

Puppet barman

The Puppet Barman

The Puppet Centre Trust celebrated 40 years of promoting, supporting and servicing puppetry this week. DNA co-founders Adam Bennett and Rachel Riggs have benefited from Puppet Centre and Penny Francis for the last 20 years in a host of ways. Hundreds of puppeteers and puppet theatre makers attended the Great Puppet Party at BAC London on November 16th 2014.

Penny Francis speaking

Penny Francis addresses the well wishers

The Puppet Centre provided support, advice, training and space for DNA in the early days. The enthusiasm for puppetry at Battersea Arts Centre on Lavender Hill, London was such that after graduating from Central School of Speech and Drama in 1993 DNA co-founders Rachel Riggs and Adam Bennett began DNA Cabaret there supported by the Puppet Centre and hosted dozens of short experimental pieces of puppetry and visual theatre between 1994 and 1999.

The evening was prepared by an enthusiastic group of keen volunteers, spurred on by Penny and the Puppet Centre board, who created the decorations, supplied a wonderful variety of entertainments, and arranged all the music, catering and prizes. Guests were received at 4pm, entertainment began at 6pm, speeches and prizes at 7pm and celebrations carried on until 10pm. A great event for an organisation that has significantly influenced the development of puppeteers and puppetry for the last 40 years, and we hope at least another 40.

Masked dancers




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Artist in Residence for the Song Room, Western Australia

Demonstrating rod puppets

Demonstrating rod puppets

This year , Rachel has been having lots of fun producing puppetry programmes for the Song Room. This is an organisation which puts artists into schools, particularly for kids in low social economic areas. The Song Room provides programs to help improve the school grades and confidence of children in some of the most disadvantaged groups.

Thurtinkle comes to visit!

Thurtinkle comes to visit!

Rachel has been artist in residence at Swanview Primary, Perth and also at schools in the Pilbarra region – Tom Price Central & North Primary’s and Paraburdoo. The first school terms focussed on shadow puppetry, with a performance to parents at the end and themes of Aboriginal Dreamtime stories, traditional Chinese culture and Lighthouse poems.

IMAG2461 IMAG0548 Dreamtime stories (1)

For Terms 3 & 4, the students have been learning all about 3D puppet forms including rod puppetry, and transforming everyday objects into amazing puppets!

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Thurtinkle seems to have inspired at least one emerging writer to write for puppets and puppetry in her work

Originally posted on Thurtinkle's World:

Many years ago I was leaning out of my little house as usual telling stories to a lovely group of children and adults. Somewhere in the crowd was a little girl called Tilly Lunken. She and her mother really enjoyed my stories and have always remembered and treasured that special time they had with me. How do I know this? Because she said so herself just the other day!

Tilly now is a writer! She loves telling stories too. Here is a photo of her getting ready to tell a story with puppets. Tilly is working on a new show and had a showing as part of the HATCH festival at Little Angel Theatre in London. I’m so happy to see you doing the same thing that I enjoy doing so much. Keep up the great work and never stop having fun.

Tilly Lunken Tilly Lunken

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