Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Bristol Puppet Festival

I have just returned from the Bristol Puppet Festival where I took part in two productions of The Chalk Giants for Norwich Puppet Theatre and two of Claytime for Indefinite Articles. It was a flying visit but I made the most of what was on offer.

The name 'Hotel 24Seven' does not hold out much promise of a peaceful night's sleep but, unlike other establishments I've visited recently, it was totally serene.  At least it was once I'd unplugged the empty fridge that sat humming to itself in the corner of my room. And the best thing about the hotel was the communal breakfast room where we met other puppeteers and festival volunteers.  All in all we were very well looked after throughout our stay.

Setting up for Chalk Giants at the Brewery, we discovered a modelling workshop being run by Aardman in the next room. Some of the stars from their animations were on display along with the moulds used to create them.

After the show we had a drink on Bristol's waterfront before heading to the Tobacco Factory for Stephen Mottram's 'The Seas of Organillo'. The marionettes were expertly made, lit and operated to a wonderful soundtrack created by Argentinian composer Sebastian Castagna. Almost all the sounds used in the piece were recordings of a miniature street organ, the organillo of the title, which had been built by Stephen himself. The performer gave us a demonstration of the instrument and its mechanisms after the show. It uses paper scrolls in the manner of a player piano, air escaping through holes in the paper (long for a minim, short for a quaver) enters the appropriate tube to sound the note.

For Claytime I had cobbled together an instrument which is somewhere between a mobile and a mug tree.  The flower pots need a hard beater to make the note sustain at all.  The structure sits on a box, a builder's hop-up, which I am turning into a budget cajon.  This needs softer-headed beaters for a good resonance.  I use it for the drum roll at the show-stopping moment when Steve Tiplady juggles nine lumps of soft clay. Breathtaking!

Between the performances, and after reporting the breaking of a window on the Puppet Theatre van in the night to the local constabulary and organising its replacement, I popped into the exhibition of Aardman and Ray Harryhausen work at the Tobacco Factory. As a fan of Tony Hart and 'Vision On' back in the day, it was lovely to see Morph's friendly face. The skeleton from the groundbreaking 'Jason and the Argonauts' (1963) looked far less friendly but was equally impressive.

Finally, so that it wasn't just a festival at which performers performed and audiences watched, there was The Big Draw giving everyone a chance to be creative.  We were invited to draw around hands or feet and make something out of the resulting shape. My foot's in there somewhere.

All too brief a visit, and I didn't even mention the puppet cabaret!  Perhaps I'll save that for another day.


  1. (I did once come across a B&B called "Nessun Dorma", that, you could argue, boded even less well for a good kip.)