Rewarding table-top puppet theatre in unusual settings


Lisa Oulten reflects on the rewarding experience of taking Ideas Test supported table-top puppet theatre production, Spaced to children and adults in pubs, leisure centres and care-settings…

I have had the most exciting six months working with the amazing Strangeface Theatre Company on their latest project Spaced.

The project is a development of an experimental show that Strangeface produced last year called Beached. Unlike their usual people sized puppet shows designed to tour festivals and be performed on a stage, this was a tiny child sized show, played out by hand sized puppets on a table top stage.

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One of the most exciting aspects of the show was the sophisticated filmic soundtrack, played through headphones for the audience of five or six people at a time. A key aim of the project was to take the puppet show to the people, where the show toured pubs and leisure centre’s. This meant a mechanism was needed to isolate the audience from surrounding distractions as well as to not disturb the every day activities going on around the show. Headphones were a fantastic solution and brought some unexpected benefits.

Being a member of such a small audience creates a feeling of intimacy and privilege; the show beautifully performed by two talented puppeteers was just for “you”. The cocoon like feeling of being inside the outwardly silent bubble of the show, along with the beautifully timeless story acts as a time machine takes adults back to childhood. The show was very popular and word quickly spread from pub to pub.

The other very exciting aspect of the show being so small was that it did visit some very unexpected places. On the final outing of the year the pupeteers found themselves in a residential home for people suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. The show was brilliantly received and the staff were delighted at the positive response from those who watched the show.

A conversation between Russell Dean, Artistic Director of Strangeface and Nell Mellerick, Day Service Manager at the Hospice in the Weald led to the current experiment. The hospice had identified that young children could often be excluded from the rest of the family when someone was terminally ill or dying. The team realised that a table top show could easily become a bedside show and Nell was keen for Strangeface to bring a puppet show to the hospice to create a child-centric lighthearted activity that could get the children out of the TV room and include all the family, but especially the smaller children.

The Strangeface team have spent the last six months designing and making Spaced. Funded by Ideas Test and Kent County Council it has been designed to visit families in Hospices around Swale, as well as a Kids and Dads group and extended needs group in Sheppey.

It is a table top puppet show, with beautifully carved puppets, a fantastic retro Russian soundtrack and an iconic story of a small boy, who, bored one summer day ends up getting himself into trouble and going on an extraordinary journey. There’s a fantastic chase scene, a scary robot, an evil genius, a space battle, an alien and the most popular character, a small space ghost dog!

The show has been designed to visit families in Hospices around Swale, to create a child centric lighthearted activity that can include all the family, but especially smaller children.

During the preparation for Spaced we have undertaken further research with hospices to identify issues that a puppet show could help with and consequently have developed a puppet making workshop for audiences to take part in after the show. Simple hand puppets are created and participants learn the skills needed to bring them to life! They give them a voice, a walk and a character. The groups work with each other and with the puppeteers to create small vignettes which they perform to the camera. This could be telling a story or a joke, or doing a dance. In the process learning skills and techniques in communication, story telling and listening.

Find out more about Strangeface Theatre