How would you describe the current project you’re undertaking?
The Four Seasons: A Reimagining is a theatrical response to Max Richter’s recomposition of Vivaldi’s masterpiece with Bunraku-style puppets. We used the music as the initial stimulus to conjure an imagistic narrative with puppetry at its heart. This response was workshopped by the creatives and cast, and is a multilayered comment on the disturbance of life through conflict/war, its effects on the individuals concerned, and the human capacity for resilience.
What are your roles and responsibilities in the show?
As an ensemble we explored Max Richter’s recomposition together, and the complex material that drifted to the surface formed the basis of our narrative. At times you are puppeteering a central character in a scene, generating thoughts and emotions, and at other times you are in support of the narrative that has emerged. The role shifts constantly between being the central brain of a character to the operating extremes of another puppet’s body -all parts being essential to bringing the emotional states of the characters concerned to life, which is sometimes very subtle in the storytelling.
Have you worked with Gyre & Gimble before?
I met Toby and Finn whilst puppeteering in the original production of War Horse at the National Theatre. Together with fellow puppeteer Tommy Luther, Toby and I had the pleasure of bringing Joey the horse to life for the first time. Being fortunate enough to share this life changing experience, we have continued our friendship and working relationship over the decade that has followed. Finn and I were also fortunate enough to work on Or You Could Kiss Me, the second collaboration with the National Theatre and Handspring Puppet Company.
What training have you had, and in what skills?
I started an architectural degree which was never completed.
How did you find your way into puppetry?
The experience studying architecture meant I had some training as a designer and draftsperson which lead me to theatre design. My mentor had a great love for puppetry and had collaborated with John Wright, founder of London’s Little Angel Theatre, so when they revived a show from the sixties he invited me to take on a role as puppeteer. I was also hugely blessed to be mentored and taught by Nina Gerasimov, a member of the St Petersburg Bolshoi Puppet Company (she moved to Cape Town with her husband who was a puppet maker). Following that my collaborations with Handspring Puppet Company furthered my experience. It’s a craft in which you never stop training!
What previous performing experience have you had?
I was a performer and company manager for the CAPAB (Cape Performing Arts Board) Puppet Company, with shows including: The Little Mermaid (marionettes), Beauty and the Beast (marionettes), Turandot (mask and bunraku), Chiwele and the Giant (Muppet-style), Jamie’s Ginormous Adventures (combination of styles) and A Puppet Circus (Trick marionettes).
My work with Handspring Puppet Company includes: performer in Tall Horse (international tour), Ill Ritourno d’ Uliise (puppet opera) and Or You Could Kiss Me (National Theatre), as well as being associate puppetry director and original performer of War Horse (National Theatre/UK tour/international) and puppetry director for Olifantland.
Most recently I was performer in Jannie Young Productions’ staging of Stravinsky’s Firebird and provided puppetry design and direction for Sally Cookson’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (West Yorkshire Playhouse).
What do you think makes puppetry such a unique performance discipline?
Puppetry allows a shy actor like me to access and share their performance craft, something that probably wouldn’t be able to do as an actor.
By bringing the inanimate to life you get to explore and question what it means to be alive. Admitting that you don’t necessarily know the answers, and filtering what you know to be true from what you perceive to be true, is a great way to earn a living and learn about life and yourself.
It also offers an opportunity for the viewer to let go of any preconceived conditioning that can occur when confronted with human actors. It can open up a mysterious dialogue in which the audience is confronted with the life being created in front of them. With puppetry, the audience chooses to suspend their disbelief even more than with other popular performance mediums and that contract between audience and puppeteer allows for a theatrical experience that is truly unique.
What are the joys and challenges of bringing a puppet to life?
There are physical challenges, as the body is often required to submit in service of the object being manipulated and I love using my body in this way. No two puppets are the same, which means you are always faced with a new challenge.
Working together with many other puppeteers, you have to let go of your ego. It becomes a genuine and focused effort from the group of people combining their collective experience and skill, ‘becoming’ the thing, person or moment. It’s a never-ending quest, striving for perfection and you never really know how successful you are, with the collaborative attempt each night to access the truth being both challenging and wondrous. This endeavour is a great teacher and gives me immense joy.
What career ambitions do you have for the future?
To continue to explore truthfully in whatever I do. I try to remain open to change and follow twists and turns as they occur, so my plan is to have none.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A doctor. In retrospect I have honestly questioned why, there are two possibilities that spring to mind: that I wanted to help people, or that perhaps I just loved the outfit!
Which five people, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?
My great grandparents, because I never met them and would love to hear all their stories about my childhood – as I remember so little about my younger self.
David Bowie or Grace Jones, they’re massive inspirations who shone a light into my world as a teenager.
Richard Dawkins, another bright light on the world.
Charlie Chaplin, I would love to meet the complex beautiful man from the vague black and white world.
Thuli Madonsela, once South Africa’s Public Protector and politician. An uncompromising human who has dedicated her life to uncovering corruption and injustice within the SA government.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by work that makes me feel. I love being drawn into a narrative or image enough to care deeply about the characters. Beauty also inspires me.
What makes a great piece of theatre?
I go to theatre to be surprised, changed and moved. To learn and feel more about myself, the world and the people in it.
Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons: A Reimagining is playing in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe, London until 21 April. More information and ticket booking can be found HERE