Puppetry Intensive Training

How would you describe the current project you’re undertaking?
The Grinning Man is a gothic fairytale musical about a boy who has been mutilated and his quest to discover his story, and who he is.

What are your roles and responsibilities in the show?
I play half of Mojo the wolf (with my wolf-husband/partner in crime, James Alexander-Taylor) although I suppose if you count the puppet, I’m only actually one third of the wolf! I’m also seen as a sailor, the frozen woman, a circus gimp and I play the violin too.

Have you worked with Gyre & Gimble before?
I haven’t no, but I had seen their work before this project.

What training have you had?
I trained for two years at Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris, after a drama degree at Birmingham University. I’ve also done some training with Odin Teatret in Denmark. I’m quite a believer in carrying on training and learning throughout a career, and I like to be adaptable and to keep being challenged. I’ve also trained as a musician and as an aerialist.

How did you find your way into puppetry?
At Lecoq we did some object manipulation, which is in the same world as puppetry, bringing an object to life. I tend to do quite physical, theatrical shows that often involve puppetry -I’ve even had puppet children a couple of times!

What previous performing experience have you had?
Before this I was playing the Fool in King Lear (Shakespeare’s Globe). I also performed in Once (West End), and played a female Sherlock Holmes in America. I also co-wrote and performed a gig theatre show about the refugee crisis with Crew for Calais called Still Waiting that we took to the Vault Festival and then to Battersea Arts Centre.
Puppetry-wise, I’ve performed a bunraku Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol, a baby Mowgli in The Jungle Book (I actually played a wolf -for the first time- in that production, but it wasn’t a puppet!) and an enormous rod puppet of a witch in Robin Hood (yes, this version had witches in it).

What do you think makes puppetry such a unique performance discipline?
It’s completely without ego. It’s not about me or my face, it’s about investing my energy in the puppet and bringing it to life.

What are the joys and challenges of bringing a puppet to life?
Operating Mojo with James is quite a ballet of co-ordination! Early on, we were both trying to avoid stepping on each other’s feet, and to breathe/move together. I can’t see James, and in fact I can’t see much at all, so I have to trust him. The only physical contact we have is his elbow to my shoulder, so he can cue me with a little elbow nudge. We can actually sense each other’s movements very well now though, we can basically read each other’s thoughts!
I actually have my own co-ordination challenge, as I am literally playing half of Mojo’s body whilst puppeteering the other half. So my own legs are the back legs of the wolf and I puppeteer the front legs with my hands. I’m trying to seamlessly join up my body with the puppet wolf body to make the audience believe that it’s all one creature. The gait of a wolf is like that of most four legged creatures (apart from camels), in that it goes diagonally i.e. right back leg, front left leg. That took me a moment to get my head around, but basically I just think of the front legs as extensions of my arms, and I always start moving with my back legs. Then it’s easy, hah!

What career ambitions do you have for the future?
I’d just like to keep working on a diverse range of creative, challenging projects. I’d love to try some aerial puppetry.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I basically always wanted to be an actor, apart from briefly wanting to be a ballerina as well.

Which five people, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?
Joan Littlewood, to talk about theatrical revolutions.
David Mitchell, he makes me laugh and I love his perspective on the world.
William Shakespeare, there’s a line in King Lear I’d like to ask him about.
George Monbiot, to talk about how to save the world.
Eugenio Barba, because of the way he talks about who we make theatre for, and he inspires me.
Jarvis Cocker, I love his lyrics and melodies. And his dance moves. And him. He could do a little after-dinner gig.
Sorry, that’s six already and I haven’t even invited my wolf-husband!

What inspires you?
I’m often inspired by visual art and music as raw material for creating work. I’ve just done some research and development with director Jenny Sealey, and she inspired me several times a day, in multiple ways. I think Lucy Ellinson and Amanda Lawrence are amazing performers. I love watching companies like Theatre O, Odin Teatret, Teatr Zar, Jasmin Vardimon, Oskaras Korsunovas, Vesturport, and Derevo. I’m also hugely inspired by the directors Thomas Ostermeier, Nancy Meckler, Benedict Andrews and Pina Bausch, as well as the writer Elfriede Jelinek. The ERA 50:50 movement also inspires me, get your badges people.

What makes a great piece of theatre?
A show that takes risks, and that transports you to another world. A show that feels truly ‘live’, rather than a repeat of the previous night. A show that is inherently theatrical, that asks you to use your imagination.

The Grinning Man is playing at the Trafalgar Studios in London until 5th May, more information and ticket booking can be found HERE