How would you describe the current project you’re undertaking?
Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons: A Reimagining is where music and puppetry come together to tell an utterly human story.
What are your roles and responsibilities in the show?
I am one of an ensemble of 5 puppeteers. We switch from being on the puppet’s feet, an arm or the head. We have become experts at gliding tables and manipulating a papery material called Tyvek. I am particularly attached to my role as a wardrobe in which my arms represent a pair of sliding drawers.
Have you worked with Gyre & Gimble before?
I puppeteered the trunk of Oona the elephant on the UK tour of Michael Morpurgo’s Running Wild. Prior to that I had worked with Toby a couple of times on two UK tours of Goodnight Mister Tom, as well as advising him on his growing plant collection!
What training have you had, and in what skills?
I left home at 16 and trained as a dancer. It was probably too much too soon. Everything else I have learnt on the job, often by creeping in through the back door. I seem to always meet wonderfully generous people who are eager to share their skills and so my skill set is an accumulation of those encounters.
How did you find your way into puppetry?
See above. A sideways recommendation led me to puppeteer Sammy the dog in a stage adaptation of Goodnight Mister Tom. It turned out to be a huge and complex part. I spent 4 weeks learning everything I could about puppetry. The lesson continues.
What previous performing experience have you had?
In addition to the previously mentioned dog and the more recent tour of Running Wild, many of the other theatre jobs I have been part of have been physical and involved some degree of object manipulation. One of the most defining experiences I have had was working with David Glass. An unsung hero of physical theatre whose ensemble practices proved more lasting for me than any training. He is a genius.
What do you think makes puppetry such a unique performance discipline?
As a puppeteer you are essentially breathing life into an inanimate but beautifully crafted object. Because of the breath it feels entirely elemental. Every aspect of the process is about collaboration, whether with the creator of the puppet or, if the puppet is operated by more than one, the other puppeteers. In this show up to 3 minds work as one to animate a single living entity. Every choice we make is in service of believably bringing to life the character within the context of their story. It is an extraordinary undertaking.
What are the joys and challenges of bringing a puppet to life?
Every new puppet presents a new technical challenge so I always feel like a complete beginner at the start of rehearsals, which is both humbling and exciting. When it’s going well it’s what I imagine jamming in a jazz band feels like. Working with others and feeling wholly tuned in to a common breath; a unified energy – then not even the sky is the limit! It is utterly thrilling.
What career ambitions do you have for the future?
To keep going, to keep playing and learning.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
It alternated between being a ballerina and a farmer. I kept the wellies but not the pointe shoes.
Which five people, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?
1. Agnes Martin, painter. A quiet visionary who had a unique perspective. I’m not sure she’d have been a great talker though.
2. My grandmother Flavia Irwin, a painter, who I haven’t finished talking to.
3. Vita Sackville-West, self-taught gardener and writer. Because I’d like to hear her talk about plants and gossip about the Bloomsbury set.
4. George Monbiot, environmentalist and writer, one of the few people speaking the truth at the moment.
5. William Morris, designer, socialist, writer, artist. I’d love to talk to him about the inseparability of all these things.
What inspires you?
Actually, my colleagues on this show inspire me. I observe them and am amazed. It is a great honour to share the stage with them. Inspiration for me comes from random places. I recently made a new friend who is a book binder. She showed me her work and I was so impressed by her unique skill and craftsmanship. People quietly doing their thing really inspires me.
What makes a great piece of theatre?
I find it impossible to define. I’m not sure there is a winning formula. As an audience member, the most unlikely things have moved me deeply, even changed my perspective. Further confirmation, if it were needed, that the arts are society’s life blood.
Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons: A Reimagining is now playing in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe, London until 21 April. More information and ticket booking can be found HERE