Which Gyre & Gimble productions have you worked on?
My first project with Gyre & Gimble was The Elephantom. After making inflatable costumes for the opening ceremony of Euro 2008, I felt this technique would be perfect for the ghostly elephant puppet and his friends. What followed was lots of work figuring out the pattern cutting of the inflatable elephant suits and huge bodies, but it was great fun being involved in such a creative show.
Next up was Running Wild, for which I made the fabric skins of the animals. This involved a lot of dyeing and fringing of a lovely rough linen I get from a precious source in Paris. It takes colour beautifully and gives a wonderful slubby texture. My favourite time was spent draping this over the head and body of Oona the elephant, and creating the pleats and creases in her skin. Other projects with Gyre & Gimble have included fabrication on The Lorax, The Grinning Man, The Four Seasons: A Reimagining and making neutral puppets from calico for their training programme.
What other projects have you been working on recently?
I am based in Paris and mostly work as a costume designer and maker. I’ve worked a lot in theatre, dance and opera but have had my most memorable adventures costuming opening ceremonies for a variety of international events. These have taken me to Greece, Switzerland, Austria, Japan, China, Nigeria, Libya, Congo Brazzaville…”costumière sans frontières”!
Most recently in the UK I have worked on a number of productions at the National Theatre – working with Finn and Nick Barnes creating the feathers for the Angel’s wings in Angels in America; working with Toby on Disney’s Pinocchio, for which I made the giant puppet costumes; and finally The Light Princess for which I made a lake from lycra.
I’ve also worked with Finn and Toby on other puppet productions such as The Christmas Carol, Goodnight Mister Tom, Low Life, Tom Thumb and recently made the giant inflatable Wizard skull of Sam Wyer’s design for The Wizard of Oz at Birmingham Rep.
What training have you had?
I started making costumes and puppets while studying drama and English at Hull University and went on to do a post-graduate in costume design at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
How did you find your way into puppet making?
Many moons ago, a small group of us from Hull University took a puppet production of Ubu to the Edinburgh Festival and performed in a booth outside the Pleasance. It was the first of many collaborations with friend and fellow Hull graduate Nick Barnes.
What are the joys and challenges of making a puppet?
There are practical challenges around weight, ease of manipulation and flexibility, but for me the fun bit comes when trying to find the essence of the character, and attempting to translate this into the shape of its body and the expression on its face.
Watching a skilled puppeteer then take your creation and breathe life into it is pretty magical.
What career ambitions do you have for the future?
Alongside costume work, I’m excited about the idea of creating my own clothing and jewellery collection from materials that I’ve collected over the years from productions and travels. It’s going to be called Popicoq and it’s coming soon!
What advice would you give someone wanting to get into puppet-making?
Say ‘yes’. Get as much experience in as many different areas as possible. Be the jack of all trades! Then it’s all about ‘cross fertilisation’ – the more you’ve done the more you can feed in creative ideas from your different experiences. That’s when things get interesting!
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Aged five, I said “I don’t mind what I do, as long as I’m famous.” (Facepalm!) Thankfully I grew out of that rubbish idea.
Which five people, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?
1. Jeremy Hardy – Because I love him, I could listen to him all night and think it’s terrible that he’s just died.
2. Jack Dee – he’ll be happy to spend the night with his old mate, Jeremy, and they’ll be hilarious and cutting and clever and rude and I’ll adore being up their end of the table.
3. Julie Taymor – because I feel I owe her at least a supper for all the ideas she’s given me over the years. I’ll happily eat my starter listening to tales of her travels around Indonesia and working alongside local makers.
4. Louis Theroux – he’s got an incredible way of getting people to open up and I’d love to hear what he really thinks of all the extraordinary characters he’s met. After a few drinks I may even admit to my long held secret crush.
5. Philippe Genty – I saw his show in Edinburgh when I was 18 and fell in love with his magical low-tech theatrical wizardry. Hopefully he’d share some tricks of the trade over cheese!
What in your opinion makes a great puppet?
I think for me a puppet is only as great as the puppeteer behind it. It can be a beautiful object full of expression, but needs the performer to bring it to life and make it great. I love that when puppetry is at its best, you completely ignore the workings that are going on before your eyes and see only the character.
Gyre & Gimble’s new puppet making course Creating Characters is running from 08 – 10 April in London. For more information and to apply, click HERE