Puppetry Festival is funny, touching and thought-provoking

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What is the Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival all about?

Taking place every two years at venues across town, it’s a celebration of the art of puppetry in its many forms – object theatre, marionettes, shadow play and kites. Since the first festival in 2015, our aim has been to bring world-class puppetry to the Kent community and to make it accessible to everyone. For this year’s festival we’ve got an even bigger and more varied line-up of funny, touching and thought-provoking puppetry suitable for all ages.

Tell us a bit about what we can expect to see

From a 17ft walking, talking tree to a lovely mini tabletop show for an audience of just eight, there’s ticketed and free shows, talks, an exhibition, workshops and some amazing free street theatre. The really exciting thing is that for the first time we have international companies performing alongside local and national artists, many of whom haven’t performed in the UK before.   

What gave you the idea to launch it in the first place?

Having travelled to see and scout for shows in the UK and overseas for festivals I was producing in Brighton and London, I was inspired to bring these exciting and extremely imaginative shows to my home town of Tunbridge Wells.

Can you give us a little bit of background about yourself?

I trained as an actor and a teacher at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. My first job was with a touring children’s theatre company called Theatre Centre, which still exists to this day in London. I worked in Repertory Theatre in Scarborough and York, and my first taste of Arts Management was when I went to work as a volunteer at Trinity Theatre to help set up the Youth Theatre. I enrolled at City University to take my MA in Arts Management and found a position as Drama Officer at The Arts Council. After eight years, I became the Theatre Manager of the De La Warr Pavilion and then of the Puppet Centre in London.

Which Tunbridge Wells venues are opening their doors to host productions?

Our base and partner venue is Trinity Theatre, but we work with all the venues in town. A new show called Little Monster for young children will be performed at the Assembly Hall and there’s a charming show called Mischief and Mysteries in Moominvalley that’s booked for the intimate surroundings of The Lounge at the Camden Centre. We are also delighted to have The Forum as our second home, where we will be presenting shows on Saturday and Sunday [October 12-13]. And, of course, there will be plenty of free events on The Pantiles and by the Millennium Clock.

What do you think visitors will enjoy most about the Puppetry Festival event?

There is a brilliant and surprising Spanish show called Lost Dog that will take place in a large shanty doghouse created from recycled materials. Remo and Rhoda from Italy are bringing their astonishing marionettes to the UK for the very first time in a wordless performance – Hanging By A Thread – that will charm the whole family. A free, shorter version will be performed on The Pantiles and by the Millennium Clock, with the show performed in full at The Forum on Sunday evening to close the festival, followed by a traditional Italian supper that is included in the ticket price.

And what’s happening on The Pantiles this time round?

Our big show there is Look Up by Hikapee, which takes place on a five-metre high aerial rig and explores the relationship between circus performer, puppet and audience, accompanied by an original soundtrack. Also look out for walkabout theatre from artist Judith Hope and her beautiful Cloud Travellers.

‘From a 17ft walking, talking tree to a lovely mini tabletop show there’s ticketed and free shows, talks, an exhibition, workshops and some amazing free street theatre’

Thingumajig bring us their big rolling mule puppet, which will reveal stories and songs of remarkable journeys. Sussex-based Rust and Stardust will present a beautifully crafted show with live music for young children called Tweethearts on the bandstand. And for puppetry on a grand scale, our 17ft Arbor on a mission to save our green spaces and giant puppet Don Quixote are not to be missed.

Why do you think puppets have such power of expression?

Much has been written about this and each puppet and show has its own unique presence. Audiences quickly accept the puppet characters and conventions and are unfettered by human traits. Puppets can also be very effective at engaging audiences when it comes to communicating more serious or sensitive subjects. 

How do you keep people’s interest in the festival going given that it only happens every two years?

We’ve been busy with a successful outreach programme that has helped to keep the festival message alive in the town. In 2018, puppetry company Smoking Apples collaborated with Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival and Age UK Tunbridge Wells to create the short film Shadow Play. Puppet theatre company Rust & Stardust also collaborated with us, Age UK Tunbridge Wells and St Barnabas Primary School on Sea of Stories. The intergenerational project aimed to reveal what the young and old can learn from each other through the sharing of stories and experiences.

To find out more visit www.twpuppetryfestival.org

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