Puppetry is one of the oldest of all art forms going right back to Ancient Greece but now companies like Odd Doll are bringing characters made of wood, plastic and string right back into fashion.
The Yorkshire based company was created in 2012 by Artistic Director Kathleen Yore and Rebekah Caputo, and their fifth show, Whisker’s First Winter, brings together artesian puppetry, original music and illustrated animation for audiences aged 2-6. Grown up puppet fans are welcome too.
“It is a celebration of the natural world in the winter time, so it’s all about capturing that feeling of experiencing our beautiful surroundings for the first time,” says Kathleen. “It’s all about the senses, the awe we feel, and the play that we have in our natural environment. I spend a lot travelling in wild environments, so it is about how that sense of awe you feel when you look at the mountains, the silence you feel when the snow is falling or the thoughtfulness the night sky creates.”
The new show that opens at Cast, Doncaster in December is designed to help younger audiences explore their feelings following the bear cub’s snowy journey, but Yore is also using her experience working as a Giggle Doctor for the Theodora Children’s Charity over the last decade.
“I work in hospitals with children using puppets, and it’s one of the things that gets them most calm because they love their movements. I’m looking at the puppet like I believe it is alive, the child believes it is alive.
“Whisker’s First Winter is relating to the audience so it all about first experiences and discovering who you are. So how we experience fear, how we develop confidence and realise our limitations. It is the way the mother has to nurture their child and then let them go to explore, but it is very playful, and full of silliness, as our main character explores his environment.”
Like all art forms when you see a puppet show like Avenue Q, or the very British end of the pier antics of Punch and Judy, it looks easy. That only happens because highly skilled professionals like Odd Doll put in hours and hours of work to bring what is an inanimate object to life.
“We spend a lot of time making puppets, so the joints move perfectly, and it’s easy to hold, but it is very, very difficult to manipulate puppets,” notes Yore. “It is something that has to be practised for hours every day over a period of weeks, so our puppeteers have just started their training, and I have to remind them that is really hard. By the time the show happens they’ll make it look easy.
“You have to be a perfectionist to be a puppeteer, so first you have to master the simple walk, mastering every movement from sitting down to standing up, and how can we make it look realistic. We create a movement vocabulary to develop ways to make the puppet look like it’s expressing emotions like fear, and we’ll go through every emotion, so they have that in their bank.”
Thanks to Punch and Judy many people have fond childhood memories of puppetry, but Odd Doll also make work aimed at adults. Seaside Terror is what might happen if Quentin Tarantino decided to make a film with puppets.
“What older audiences find they see the craftsmanship that had gone into it so with Seaside Terror as there is so much detail. We put a lot of work into the stories, there is quite a lot of language it in, there’s a lot of nostalgia as it is based on portmanteau 1970s horror films, and people have seen a lot of those movies. “The stories are so odd and freaky it is just great entertainment.”
Like all top class artist Yore and her team will make it look easy when Whisker and his mates walk onto the stage, but anyone who had a puppet when they were a kid will recall just hard it is to make them do even the most basic moves. So what motivates Yore to keep pulling the strings?
“Seeing an inanimate object come to life is one of the most magical things you will ever see especially when it is done well, and there is that a sense that this is an object, but when you start to believe then that’s when it becomes really magic. It is only when you try yourself, or see the puppet when dead, that you realise how difficult it is to get every breath and movement into the puppet.
“I’m always telling adults that when you see a really good puppet show you will be changed for life.”
Whisker’s First Winter, 7th – 29th December 2019 at Cast, Doncaster.
• Week 1: Sat 7th Dec: 10.30am, 1pm; Tue 10th Dec: 10.30am (Relaxed Performance); Wed 11th Dec – Sat 14th December: 10.30am, 1pm; Sun 15th Dec: 11am, 2pm, 4pm
• Week 2: Tue 17th Dec – Sat 21st December 10.30am, 1pm. Sun 22nd Dec 10.30am, 1pm, 3.15pm
• Week 3: Mon 23rd Dec 10.30am, 1pm; Tue 24th Dec 10.30am, 1pm, 3.15pm; Fri 27th Dec – Sunday 29th December: 10.30am, 1pm.
Tickets: £7.50-£8.50. School ticket price of £5.50, teachers come free.