Inspired puppetry provides plenty of gripping moments
"Puppetry can achieve things normal theatre simply can't. Actors are, by their very nature, rooted to the stage – whereas puppets can defy gravity, time and space, and express themselves in flight, weightlessness, dream states, scale changes, transformations and so much more."
The speaker is Chris Pirie, co-founder of Bristol Festival of Puppetry – England's only all-ages puppet theatre festival, which returns for its third biennial instalment this week and next.
Chris and co-founder Rachel McNally are long-term puppeteers themselves with years of experience running Bristol-based puppet theatre companies. They're also hugely well-connected in the global puppet theatre community – which is why their biennial bash is attended by some of the finest exponents of the genre from around the world.
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Continental Europe has traditionally been a stronghold for adventurous, thematically rich adult puppetry, with all the narrative content, emotional heft and dramatic power that you would expect from the very best non-puppet theatre. As before, some of the continent's best makers are pitching up in Bristol to show new work.
The 2013 festival's menu includes a UK premiere of the latest co-production by two heavyweights of world puppetry, Dutch company Ulrike Quade and Norway's Jo Strømgren Kompani.
Munch & Van Gogh: The Scream of The Sunflower (tomorrow1) takes place on a popular TV show where historical figures are brought back to life – but will tortured artists Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh play along?
Families are well catered for, too, with a fun, interactive programme of shows including the enchanting Fireside Tales with Granddad (today) by Bristol's own Pickled Image. Using storytelling and puppetry, Granddad recounts his adventures with a hungry shark, grumpy trolls and sneaky princes. The storytelling theme continues with Silly Boys' equine adventure The Tallest Horse on Earth (tomorrow) and The Sun, The Moon and Half a Chicken by Storybox Theatre (Sunday, September 1).
There are a host of chances to get involved yourself – including practical puppetry workshops, a Creatures of Bristol Carnival, an opening Puppet Trail along North Street and an Open Doors Day at festival organisers (and Bristol puppetry HQ) Puppet Place.
An exhibition curated by Bristol's world-famous puppeteers Aardman Animations will present visuals and objects from the company's award-winning collection of creations, while the ever-popular Smoking Puppet Cabaret returns with an eclectic line-up of short pieces ranging from the beautiful to the downright twisted.
What about a recommendation from this year's programme for an adult-puppetry virgin? "I would heartily recommend Vindstille by Dutch company The Lunatics, which we are presenting as a special late-night, outdoor performance," Chris reveals. "It's a warm and moving show with fantastic physical performances alongside some really inventive puppetry – a woman made from wet sand, fish conjured out of old sacks – all set to a pulsating live soundscape."