Puppetry in the UK

There is a lot going on in the world of puppetry in the UK and particularly in England right now. The British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild is working on a consortium bid for the National Puppetry Archive to become part of a Europe wide network of puppet museums celebrating the heritage of European puppetry. There is a funded consortium of English puppetry organisations and artists having meetings around the country and consulting widely on what can be done to strengthen the puppetry sector. Recently there have been some very successful festivals celebrating the artform of puppetry with performances, masterclasses and events.

Following on from this Rachel McNally of Puppet Place has written a provocative article called Has the popularity of War Horse killed off innovation in UK puppetry? and in response DNA’s Adam Bennett has written a post called Is puppetry and puppet theatre a separate art form? on his own blog.

Two new independent schools of puppetry for professional puppeteers have launched. One in London as a ten week intensive, launching next year, and the other as an ongoing series of short courses in Brighton. Horse and Bamboo near Manchester is offering a regular programme of performances and workshops as well.

Puppet Festivals have been taking place all over England and Scotland this year as well with Manipulate in both countries, Bristol Festival of Puppetry, Skipton Puppet Festival, Rossendale Puppet Festival, Beverley Puppet Festival, Stone Puppet Festival, and Suspense in London.

New and emerging puppetry companies are appearing to add flavour to the UK scene including Gyre and Gimble, Smoking Apples, Mirth and Misery, String Theatre and Odd Doll puppetry. These companies join many hundreds of groups and thousands of individuals working professionally in puppetry in the UK. There is a searchable database of puppeteers and puppetry companies as well as an overview of the puppetry groups and organisations on the Puppeteers UK website


Odd Doll – Red Rust



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Thurtinkle’s Fairy Tales at Little Feet Childrens Festival

IMG_20151028_223107Rachel writes – Thurtinkle had a wonderful time performing at the Little Feet Childrens Festival in Joondalup, Perth, Western Australia last weekend. With Amity Culver presenting, we had fantastic audiences, and inbetween shows had the DNA fairy puppets making magic wishes with children and parents for the Wishing Tree. Lots of beautiful and heart felt messages x

Little feet childrens fest 2015 (1)Little feet childrens fest 2015 (7) Little feet childrens fest 2015 (8) Little feet childrens fest 2015 (12) Little feet childrens fest 2015 (14) Little feet childrens fest 2015 (15) Little feet childrens fest 2015 (16) Little feet childrens fest 2015 (18) Little feet childrens fest 2015 (19) Little feet childrens fest 2015 (21)

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Incredible Iran! Cloud Child at the 22nd Hamedan’s children & Young Adult’s International Theatre Festival

Iran festival poster   ‘There is a House in paradise called Happiness, and one wont be let in , unless he has made children laugh’             Prophet Mohammed.

Rachel Riggs writes – Ive just recently returned from a trip to perform ‘Cloud Child’ in Hamadan, Iran at the 22nd International theatre Festival for Children & Youth 1-6th October 2015. Cloud child rehearse Iran (23)I had been invited to perform at the festival before and this year everything came together, working out the idea of  a collaboration with actress and director Afsaneh Zamanai. We had met two years before at a UNIMA festival in Nanchung, China, became friends and after many emails about visas, making set & props, and how we would collaborate, I was finally going to Iran (the visa arrived just in time!) The show fits in a large suitcase 20 kilos!Iran 2015 (7)We had 4 days to rehearse in Tehran, I was very grateful to be accomodated by the Dramatic Arts Centre of Iran, who organise the festival, and we practiced in ‘ the puppet house’, the Tehran puppet centre, which was perfect. We also managed to fit in sightseeing to the Tehran National Museum and the Bazaar. Tehran is pretty hectic, trying to get across the road is insane and having to remember to keep my hair covered at all times, well i got used to it! But I was very grateful to Afsaneh for steering me in the right directions. Cloud child rehearse Iran (8) Cloud child rehearse Iran (15) Cloud child rehearse Iran (20) Lots of help from my Iranian friends, I met two years ago in Kazakhstan – Hamed Zaeran, Komeil Shavasari & Maryam Tehranihamid makes the houseRehearsals went really well, Afsaneh is very skilled, she speaks great English, and so we had a lot of fun, working through the new version of ‘Cloud Child’ which is the original story simplified to play anywhere, and be open enough to allow contribution from the actor/puppeteer joining the creative venture. Its like a line drawing on paper, someone else can colour in and add their creativity.

Iran 2015 (5) All packed up ready to go to Hamadan, picking up Gary Friedman at the airport on the way! Gary’s here to do a masterclass & film Iranian puppeteers www.puppetryfilms.com  Also here from South Africa is ‘Patchwork’ by Joanna Evans and Asanda Rilityana, the first professioanl theatre for early years production, supported by Small size, Assitej, which was charming with live music by Pedro the music man, and shared similar theatre making methods.

Iran 2015 (64)‘Cloud Child’ has three performances on the Saturday, so we do the bump in and technical the evening before, which I was glad about because of course we were still working past midnight. It was very interesting to have the show checked by governing authority, and no problems, except to keep the scarf on!tech teamThe technical team were amazing, stuffing cloud cushions, making the space as good as possible and with lots of fluffy clouds pinned around , looked much more inviting for early years audiences.

Iran 2015 (60) The first audience were all early years and perfect, I really enjoyed our performance and interaction with the children. they played with the cushions, and participated in the journey of the story with sensory storytelling – water, fragrant smells and the wind.Iran 2015 (63)The other shows had older children and adult audiences,  still successfull but not quite having the early years energy and responses, the audience still played and enjoyed the sensory aspects, as well as the show being visual and not using any specific language.Iran 2015 (58)Afterwards I was given a beautiful flower bowl & certificate from the Association of Theatre for children & adolescents of Hamadan province.

Iran 2015 (80)Iran is the country of poets, and from my hotel window, I could see Baber Taher’s shrine, reminding me of Thunderbirds are go! on the outside, inside are beautiful inscriptions, and luckily the day we visit, live poetry and  music .

Iran 2015 (17)Im also here to teach a Masterclass for early years educators on the Sunday, all the materials are supplied by the festival, and theres also a group of children joining in too. Which is great, as i can model with the children. As I introduce myself  & my work to the educators, i give the children a scarf each and ask them to imagine what else this material could be?Iran workshop (5)With my excellent translator Mr Mutahari, we get into a rhythm and talk about the importance of play, letting the children lead the exploration with given materials, the adult observing and following the children’s imaginative investigations. Iran workshop (15)I use a mug to demonstrate making an instant puppet. My friends 3 and a half years old daughter  perfectly assisted with no verbal language used. Firstly she used the mug as its functional use to drink from, then i turned it over and moved it as a head, and she pointed to where the eyes should be, So I stick on googly eyes, and she points to her own eyes. Then i model adding cloth to make a body for an instant character and interact with her, she touches the face and then takes my hand, the puppets hand. We also use our hands as puppets sticking on eyes and everyone has hands on play. Iran workshop (16)I also talk about a puppet as a communication tool, and how I use this in the early years theatre and play workshops I create. I demonstrate with Cloud Child and immediately Mahora runs over to interact with the puppet again!mahora & ccThe children have made their own creations from the scarves,naturally giving time to process and also use the cloud cushions. . They have some fantastic ideas and one girl has made a simple bird by folding the scarf material, she makes it peck from its nest of a cushion.I ask her how it flies and assist her when she shows me, taking a wing to manipulate. The imagination is always free and the children play happily making up stories, using furniture in the room.Iran workshop (12)I also talk about the importance of sensory play, giving time to the process of exploration, to smell, taste and touch, see and feel. I demonstrate how this is used in the ‘Cloud child’ show with fabrics, water, fans and aromas.

Iran workshop (18)It was a great privilege to share ideas and skills with female early years educators & theatre makers in Iran at the festival, and also to make contacts for future masterclasses and productions. Iran has the most sophistictaed theatre tradition in the middle east and a rich history, often overshadowed by modern predjudices . My trip to Iran was a wonderful opportunity to get a taste of the ancient & modern cultures, artistic traditions and vast amount of contemporary work happening in childrens theatre. In Tehran there are 3 childrens theatres, one dedicated to young children, and it would be very interesting and beneficial to develop further connections and collaborations.Iran 2015 (143)At the closing ceremony ‘Cloud Child’ recieved a Hamadan special ceramic award for childrens theatre and it was very interesting to see the incredible lifetimes work of Puppet master Marziyeh Boroomand in Iranian childrens theatre and tv, honoured with a special award . People have grown up with her television puppet characters and showed much appreciation.award iranHuge thanks WA Department of Culture and Arts ‘Artsflight’ programme who funded my trip, and to the staff of the International childrens festival for a very successful event, and my Iranian friends new and old, for their friendship & hospitality.Iran 2015 (75)DCAlogo



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Tom Thumb creative development

Adam Bennett has been spending some time in the workshop of The Boo – the creation centre of Horse and Bamboo Theatre. Set in the rural pennine hills north of Manchester this workshop is an inspiring place for playful experimentation with form. Adam has been coming up with staging, design and puppetry concepts for the next touring show Tom Thumb, a new DNA show produced with support from Horse and Bamboo and touring from late January 2016.

I was keen to explore the creation of set and puppets that would encourage children to get out into nature and see forms, characters and stories in the branches, sticks and twigs found in woods and parks as well as washed up on beaches. With this in mind I collected many different sizes and shapes of fallen or washed up wood. In the workshop I wanted to explore a process of discovering the staging and the characters from the natural forms. I didn’t want to impose shapes but discover, articulate and reveal the characters of the Tom Thumb story.


I set up a piece of marine ply on three branches to serve as a tabletop staging for the show, and hung a curtain of branches behind to play with the idea of a playboard.

Little Tom

I joined two tiny, soft pieces of driftwood together with some twine to become little Tom, attaching a rod that could slide through the head. This means I can operate Tom from above and below. I’m concerned that the wood is too soft to withstand the rigours of touring….


Merlin is a very abstract shape and doesn’t really make sense until he’s operated. After a little struggle the audience starts to see a face in the odd shape – I hope!


Titania is the queen of the Faerie Folk. She is made from found driftwood, and currently her wings are made from paper – which is a kind of wood…


Little Tom makes friends with a mouse (called Steed) as a child. The leather ears are a bit of a cheat, but without them Steed doesn’t really read as a mouse!

Owl with Tom

In the story Tom is snatched by a bird. It was meant to be a raven, but I found an owl in the wood. It’s made from five different pieces of wood.

Tom Thumb wood

This is a larger version of Tom which is used after he is Knighted by King Arthur and sent to fight a dragon. Still very much a work-in-progress. The legs/arms are driftwood and the body/head is made from a branch as you can see.

The dragon is pretty spectacular and needed almost no adjusting. In fact two are currently in the running. Both are large branches with impressive looking heads on the ends. I’m not including them in this post. Spoilers.

Tom Thumb will be at The Lowry, Salford, Artsdepot London, Warwick Arts Centre Coventry, Norwich Puppet Theatre and lots more.

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Remembering Rosa Parkin x

rosasmagic Rachel writes – It was with great sadness, we learnt of Rosa’s passing on Sept 6th 2015, after fighting a rare form of cancer over the last two years. I want to honour her memory & work with DNA, and the wonderful woman she was.

rosa, artworks 024Rosa worked as DNA’s tour developer and producer from 1999 – 2008, and took DNA’s work into Europe, memorably to Framces’s Chalon Dans La Rue festival, the year of the artists strike, where we performed with the Uk’s National Theatre collective, and tours of Spain with Tanit Teatro. She was responsible for developing the presentation of DNA’s shows at the Uk’s top festivals, Glastonbury, Bestival,  Green Man & many others.

brochureWithout Rosa, the Puppets a GoGo! tent would never have been born, and with the help of her then partner Dadu, who created the entrance way, sorted our electrics and fit up, plus customised the DNA van, we toured the Uk festivals for over 5 years with a rich programme of sell out acts for all ages.

curious crowdsRosa also created all the amazing DNA publicity for our shows, designing promotional material, and filming and editing our videos. She always had her eye on quality, unique & interesting images that made the DNA brand image and sold our touring shows.

turnipgrass2-300dpibabanew5 02puss2newdrnosesmallatishoo!Ball-Pond-Publicity-imageRosa was amazing to work with, so gifted and talented, she always did everything 110% and made so many of my dreams for DNA come true. She took DNA’s first steps to Australia, attending an APAM producers conference and beginning our International touring. Later, she trained as a magician, creating her own unique storytelling magic shows. She was truly magical and no one who met her could resist her smile, warmth, love and laughter. I am deeply grateful for knowing her, and everything she did for DNA, as a friend and professional.

rosa, artworks 019With love and sincere condolences to all her family & friends, all those who knew her magic x

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

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Artist in Residence for the Song Room, West Australia

Rachel Riggs puppeteer

Rachel Riggs puppeteer

Rachel writes from overseas, Ive recently completed another successful residency for the Song Room , an organisation which funds artists to lead workshops in low social economic area schools nationally.

Belmay shadows (10)Belmay shadows (11)

Working with the friendly staff and pupils of Belmay Primary, Perth, we spent term 1 playing with shadow puppets and term 2 exploring rod puppets.

IMG_20150323_134415503I brought in a collection of my puppets from around the world to show a variety of styles, though Perth city had just had a visit from Royal de Luxe with some of the worlds largest marionettes, so the children had their eyes opened more then usual.IMG_20150618_134649356The students made rod puppets from their original designs of pirates, mermaids, magical creatures and super heroes. Using my scrunchy tissue paper technique, the heads were sculpted and cloth costumes decorated, ready for making up stories of sailing the seas, to the moon and back in space , or

IMG_20150615_134911243superheroes saving others.


Aprofessional development session was held after school for teachers to share their learning with other staff in the school and for me to develop further puppetry in the classroom ideas for their creative skill sets.

pd song roomIMG_20150618_155252183IMG_20150618_152646324All the puppets went on display around the school in the reception area, library. art room and language study area with quotes from the children about their artistic achievements.IMG_20150618_152545147

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Puppetry at Walker Art Gallery Liverpool

Adam Bennett of DNA spent the day yesterday at the Walker Art Gallery with a mixed age group of children and adults making puppets and then having fun learning how to perform with them. Here are some photos of their creations



Each 90 minute session wasn’t much time to make a puppet from scratch and learn how to perform with them. We used a simple rod puppet design that gave a working puppet quickly.


The characters were based on Greek Mythology. There were a few Medusas, Zeus, some Poseidons, Athena, Artemis and a few “random villagers/townspeople” for the gods and monsters to perform simple scenes with.


Adults and children alike enjoyed the creativity of making and the joy of playing with their creations.



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