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Skipton International Puppet Festival

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 10, 2007 10:11 pm    Post subject: Skipton International Puppet Festival Reply with quote

A little while ago I took a busman's holiday, a couple of days in Skipton, to see what was on offer. It was a well organised affair in a splendid setting, indoors and also on the canal bank.

Clive Chandler was presenting his "world famous" Punch and Judy to enthusiastic crowds on the canal side. Saturday was a sunny day and the conditions excellent. If you've not seen Clive's show it is a very workmanlike show, traditional but with strongly individual touches. He starts with a brisk warm up where Clive's experience in handling an audience is obvious from the start. I enjoyed the show hugely.

Don Cristobal
There were free shows at several locations, and indoor ticketed shows at the Skipton Little Theatre, Settle Victoria Hall, and in two auditoria in Skipton Town Hall. In one of these I saw Don Cristobal. Don Cristobal is the Spanish equivalent of Mr Punch.

The company, The Pelele Marionettes, is from France although the puppeteer, Pat Tatay, is Spanish. Perhaps that is why she chose to perform Don Cristóbal.

Don Cristobal is the nearest Spain has to a Punch figure. This character has nothing like the lineage of Punch, Polichinelle, Pulcinella, Petrouska and the rest of the gang. There is some dispute as to whether poet-dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca invented the character when he wrote The Puppet Play of Don Cristóbal (Retablillo de Don Cristóbal) in 1931, or revived and popularised an existing character, a traditional trickster.

In the version brought to this festival Pat Tatay has used the basic character of Don Cristobal as painted by Lorca, but has devised her own story which has elements of the animated cartoon alongside Punch-style slapstick. She works hands above head, to good effect in the fight and chase scenes.

Don C is swazzled throughout, and very clearly. Even so there is little need of dialogue since the action is perfectly understood from the action and clever manipulation. The slapstick is brilliantly pointed by the use of a live musician Alice Lethagne who plays accordion, together with a wonderful array of noisemakers and sound effects - tinkling bells, ratchets, cymbals, bird warblers, rainsticks and the like.

Don C is a grotesque, avaricious old man version of Punch. The play opens with him gloating over two bags of gold. He kisses them, and then lies on top and goes to sleep.

His chief antagonist is an old hag, his wife or housekeeper. Her aim is to have the gold herself and is quite prepared to kill Don C to achieve this.
There is lots of fun as she tries to steal the sacks from beneath the sleeping Don.

At one stage she keeps appearing behind him with a huge executioners' axe. But every time she swings it he, oblivious, moves to a different place.
Eventually she swings the thing so violently that it sinks deep into the playboard and is stuck, a situation which produces much laughter as she tries to free it.

Then Don C brings on a wooden chest in which to hide the bags of gold. But the old woman is not the only person after the treasure. The taxman arrives and presents Don C with a bill for two million. There follows a Punch-style counting routine with the bags. Finishing with Don C so incensed that he first twists the taxman's head back-to-front, then finally rips it off. There is some hilarious black humour as the crawling body seeks its head.

The old woman rigs up a weight and pulley booby trap to crush Don C - but manages to fall victim herself and ends up, cartoon style, flattened. Don C re-inflates her with a pump, and overdoes the job and she bobs around balloon-like.

She tries a bomb, and then finally decides to use poison. After bringing on a cauldron there is much fun as she tries to persuade a reluctant squid into the pot as she prepares Don C his favourite dish.

The poison apparently works and Death comes to claim him. There is much chasing, hitting and missing, and eventually Death brings on a coffin and tries to get Don C to lay in it. This is very much akin to the Jack Ketch sequence with the gallows. But although Death is tricked into laying in the coffin himself he jumps out there follows a very impressive slapstick fight - except Don C and Death are both equipped with very long bamboo staffs and they indulge in a splendidly choreographed fight routine.

Death gets bashed on the head, and to revive him Don C gives him whisky to drink - lots and lots of it. There is some very clever manipulation of the drunken Death staggering around, well observed and very funny.

Don C easily now persuades Death to rest in the coffin, where he falls into a drunken stupor. Gleefully he nails on the coffin lid. Death has been conquered. Dancing around in high glee Don C pulls the tabs closed.

The show was very well manipulated and highly inventive. The sound effects and music added enormously to the show. But there was a lot of repetition and the sequences were rather too long for my taste and the show, at 50 minutes, would have been even better at half the length. But I would have been sorry to have missed it.

Another show of particular interest to me was Stanelli's Super Circus, Stan Parker's puppets performed by the Upfront Puppet Theatre.

They began with an explanation of how a heritage grant allowed them to purchase these puppets, and the magnificent marquee in which to show them.

The two lads presenting the puppets admit that they are not skilled marionette manipulators. Nevertheless with good presentation and working within their limits they presented an entertaining show which was well enthusiastically received by the Skipton families.

I didn't see everything by any means. There were quite a number of shows which followed today's trend of actors using puppets as props to aid their telling a story. These were generally very skilfully performed, but such an approach is not to my old fashioned taste. I prefer live actors in live theatre, and puppet actors in puppet plays. Ok I'm a dinosaur, although not quite extinct.

Theater Laku Paka of Germany presented one of the street performances, "The Fisherman and his Wife". This well known story is told on the handle bars of a penny farthing and the whole story comes out of a tin of sardines. This was very simple, direct and effective story telling with puppets and totally held the attention of a mixed audience. This company were also presenting a shadow version of "Peter and the Wolf."

I also saw the Clydebuilt Puppet Theatre's production "Beowulf, the dragon slayer". This was a tour de force of solo acting where the puppets, although slickly animated, were never allowed to come alive and take attention away from the human actor. Also the script was peculiar in that just when you thought it was coming to an end it started again on a new plot.

Bistouri by the Tof Theatre of Belgium was not to my taste. The set was a hospital operating theatre cum garden shed filled with Emmet style mechanisms. The piece was for solo actor with a bunraku-like Siamese twin appendage. The plot was an old one - turn of the century in origin - where a surgeon cuts open a patient and pulls out an hilarious succession of unlikely objects. As a child I remember seeing this as short skit at many a village concert and scout gang show, often done as a shadow show behind a stretched white sheet, and usually lasting but a few minutes. In this case the skit was elaborated, stretched to 50 minutes. Admittedly there was the addition of a lot of clever technical effects, but I found it tedious. This was probably because I did not find the idea novel, and, most importantly, the puppet never once came alive as a character for me. However I must point out that many people did find it new and surprising, and many found it very funny. I think that I was in the minority in not enjoying it.

Because it wasn't possible to see everything I missed Freehand Theatre's "Little Red - you know who" and also Professor Popup of Nottingham with his "Pied Piper", but these were both shows I had seen, and enjoyed enormously, at the Lambert International Puppet Theatre in Ireland.

I have seen Martin and Su Bridle's "Piggery Jokery" several times. I thoroughly it enjoyed it again.

I was very sorry not to be able to see Lejo from the Netherlands with his performance "Handiwork". I did see his short spot on the final night cabaret and realised what a treat I had missed. Among the other shows I missed were "The Elves and the Showmaker" and "The Three Little Pigs" by the Theatre of Widdershins, "The Amazing Thing", Lempen Puppet Theatre (after their highly praised appearance at the Irish International Festival),"A Spoonful of Stories" from Hand to Mouth Theatre, Black Cat Theatre with "Kathputli", Theatre September with "Wilfrid and the lost memory", Garlic Theatre's "The Magnificent Flying Machine", Indigo Moon with "The Worm that squirmed" and Horse and Bamboo Theatre with "Storm and a Teacup". Quite a line-up eh? And all in a weekend event! Wow!

This was a super festival, extremely well organised (even when tragedy hit when the computer hard drive with all the booking details went caput Bookings Manager Harold Hoggarth resorted to hand written tickets and handled things smoothly), of general high quality, and very friendly. The enthusiasm and vision of Liz and Daniel Lempen must be applauded.

If they do it again this is a not to be missed event. Keep in touch at
Chris Somerville of the Harlequin Puppet Theatre
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 03, 2011 9:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

They are doing a festival in September. I will definitely try to attend. It sure sounds exciting.


Last edited by JavierOrear on Fri Feb 18, 2011 4:32 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 03, 2011 10:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, they also did one in 2009. It is held every other year - or that is the plan.
Unfortunately I couldn't manage to get there last year - and nobody who did volunteered a report.
Well worth a visit, well organised and good acts, and Skipton itself is lovely.
Chris Somerville of the Harlequin Puppet Theatre
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