The art of puppetry – not just for children?

Our October half-term show is the beautiful The Man Who Planted Trees from Puppet State Theatre Company. Although primarily aimed at children, The Man Who Planted Trees is also for adults. Traditionally, puppetry is seen as a medium for kids, but this is increasingly challenged in both theatre and advertising. We asked guest blogger Jake Orr, Marketing Officer at Little Angel Theatre, to give us an insight into the world of puppetry for all ages.

'Dog' from The Man Who Planted Trees

'Dog' from The Man Who Planted Trees

When people ask me what I do for work and I tell them that I work in a puppetry theatre doing marketing, a strange mix of responses seems to follow. Some are utterly delighted by the idea that there are such things as puppet theatres, others are more bemused by the whole notion. Yet one common occurrence is people repeatedly respond with ‘so the shows are for children?’ The answer is yes, but more often than not, it’s also no.

There seems to be a myth about puppetry, one that evades every auditorium when a puppetry show is to take place, and that is puppetry is just for children. At Little Angel Theatre where I work, the shows we have are often designed for children and their families, but we also have an increasing amount of work for adults. So much so, that our Artistic Director, Peter Glanville, has developed a festival of puppetry work that is solely for adults called SUSPENSE (28 October – 6 November)

So what is it about puppetry that makes everyone think it is just for children? I think the heart of the matter lies in our abilities to believe in magic. Puppetry is magical. From the fragments of materials that are sewn, stitched, glued or strung together, a whole breath and breadth of life can emerge. I have seen a pile of sheets and pillows turn into elephants, or a collection of gardening tools become humans. The transformation from everyday objects to something that appears to be a living and breathing organism is magical, there is no denying that. But can adults truly grasp the idea of magic compared to that of children?

As we grow older, we increasing become weary of having to act and behave in certain ways. We show respect to other people, we are civil and abide by the rules of society, but with this we loose our abilities to engage and play with the world around us. Puppetry invites its audience into the world of imagination, where you have to suspend your disbelief in order to appreciate the work that is being done in front of you. There is no point turning your nose up as a puppeteer as he works an object, it’s far better to surrender and revel in its beauty and magic.

Puppetry has that magical quality that stirs and excites. It has endless possibilities, and requires years of training and skill to be able to perfect in performance, but it also does more than just entertain. Whilst there has been growing uses of the arts as a method of healing and assisting in healthcare environments such as therapy, the use of applied puppetry has also increased.

As an art form puppetry tends to transcend boundaries of languages. It is a visual art form, that doesn’t require a language to dictate and narrate compared to that of a straight play. Figures, objects, or just images that move across the stage manipulated by puppeteers can easily be understood or have imagined narratives for its audience. There is at times something rather captivating about watching a show where the only language that is used is through the movement of a puppet, it’s like switching off the need to think, and instead seeing the magic of theatre and puppetry.

For adults, puppetry can be fun, exciting and adventurous, but it can also be dark and sinister. From our darkest nightmares, and worst situations, the use of puppets to reflect and portray these can be chilling. I’ve witnessed some of the most horrific images through puppetry which wouldn’t have been possible through that of using people. I have been repulsed, amazed and stunned.

We also tend to forget about how much puppetry is around us in films and television. Spitting Image, the satirical television show reflected what the nation was thinking at a time when we were going through great political unrest. There are epic films such as Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or The Labyrinth which have all utilised puppetry, whether this is mechanical or hand-held to entertain us. Let’s not forget the PG Tips Monkey, the Compare The Market Meercat or the Coco-Cola girls, all using puppetry in their advertising, and all aimed at adults.

Spitting Image

Spitting Image

The truth is, puppetry is just coming into its own. There are numerous adult puppetry shows that are popping up on our stages and televisions. At Little Angel we’re seeing adults coming along to our family shows on their own. Why? Because puppetry is cool, it’s got that magical quality that enchants and excites us. It has endless possibilities and can lead us to unexpected places. Too often people are too concerned to think that puppetry is just for children, well I say, get to your nearest puppet show and enjoy the experience, you won’t regret it.

Come along and see for yourself: catch Puppet State Theatre Company’s The Man Who Planted Trees at Southbank Centre 25 – 28 October. Get tickets here. 

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