It's been over 25 years since the last festival and the suspense has been killing puppetry fans. But at last ten days of puppet magic is to unfurl across London as Suspense, a festival of adult puppetry, opens at the end of the month. Including an eclectic range of performances, masterclasses and symposia, organisers promise to "explode the myths that currently surround puppetry in this country" and prove that "puppets aren't just for kids".
Suspense stars puppet artistes from the UK and beyond, and adventures will range from the bizarre to the mysterious, with performances from a host of marionettes, shadow puppets and found objects, as well as animation, film, dance and song. The festival runs across 7 select venues including tiny treasures like the Little Angel Theatre and the floating Puppet Barge.
We chatted to Peter Glanville, Artistic Director of the Little Angel Theatre and one of the brains behind Suspense, to find out more.
Peter, it's been over 25 years since the last London Puppetry Festival... why so long and why now?
Puppetry has historically been very poorly funded in the UK, and so puppetry companies and organisations like Little Angel have not had the resources to create a major event of this scale. Over the last five years high profile productions like War Horse, Madame Butterfly, Avenue Q, The Lion King and Venus and Adonis have helped to generate new audiences and a growing appreciation for the art-form.
At the same time, Little Angel has developed evening audiences for adult work such as our "Puppet Grinder Cabarets". This, in turn, has influenced more theatre artists / companies to engage with the art-form, and is reflected in the wide range of work programmed for Suspense.
You say puppetry is going through a renaissance at the moment, but why do you think that is? What is it that's appealing about it right now?
Theatre makers are looking at new ways of creating work and have re-discovered and re-examined the potential of puppetry in telling stories through image, symbol and metaphor. A growth in influences from other cultures has also had an impact. Julie Taymors work was influenced by her time in Indonesia, Greg Doran was inspired by Bun-raku Puppetry in Japan, and numerous artists have been inspired by Tadeusz Kantor's work in Poland with objects and puppets.
What distinguishes adult puppetry from kids' puppetry?
The Brain by Inkfish, Suspense London Puppetry Festival, photo by Richard Termine
What kinds of people watch adult puppetry?
All kinds!! I'm sure the festival will have a core audience who are interested in puppetry and visual forms of theatre, but I think more people will be attracted by the subject matters - from Shakespeare to Einstein to Schoenberg - rather than just the art form.
How would you describe the London puppetry scene? In fact, is there a London puppetry scene??
The Little Angel calls itself the home of British Puppetry - since 1961. We've been a major centre for people who want to learn more about the art-form as makers or puppeteers. We have weekly classes for children, teenagers and adults, as well as ongoing professional development courses and educational projects up and down the country. We're also a producing and receiving house and tour work nationally and internationally.
Most puppeteers/puppet-makers have had a connection with Little Angel at some point in their careers. Having said that, there are many other incredible places where people can also learn or perform puppetry, especially Norwich Puppet Theatre and the Scottish Mask and Puppet Centre in Glasgow.
In terms of 'scenes', puppetry is definitely not London-centric. There are an abundance of companies scattered all over the country. This is reflected by Puppet Festivals in places such as Bristol, Edinburgh, Skipton, Bath and Buxton. Most of the companies programmed in Suspense are not London-based.
What about you - how long have you being doing puppetry?
I became interested in non-text based / visual forms of theatre making when I first saw work by companies like Phillipe Genty and Complicite. I ran a company called Kazzum for many years and through this time began to study mask, Lecoq-based clowning and puppetry.
My interest in puppetry continued to grow and a four month sabbatical in 2000 allowed me to travel across South-East Asia studying the art-form in more detail. I returned to direct a production of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" in a tank of water inspired by Vietnamese Water Puppetry. My first job with the Little Angel was as a Stage Manager when I was a student. I never thought then that 25 years later I would have the privilege of being Artistic Director.
Finally, what should we watch at Suspense?
I'd advise everyone to catch "Rust" by Green Ginger at The Pleasance - their work is a lot of fun and this is a London premiere of a piece that has been all over the world. I'm also looking forward to hosting international companies at Little Angel - Compagnie Papiertheatre (France), TAMTAM Objektentheater (Holland) and Inkfish (US)