Author Archives: Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior

About Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is the editor of Total Theatre Magazine, and is also a performer, writer, dramaturg and choreographer/director working in theatre, dance, installation and outdoor arts. Much of her work is sited in public spaces or in venues other than regular theatres. She also writes essays and stories, some of which are published and some of which languish in bottom drawers – and she teaches drama, dance and creative non-fiction writing.

Total Theatre Artists as Writers – Applications now closed!


Call-out – Artist as Writers

A free mentoring and training programme in writing skills for artists and theatre makers, led by Total Theatre Magazine’s editors

Are you an artist/theatre maker keen to develop your writing skills? Are you interested in exploring writing about art and theatre making, past and present? Do you want to think more systematically about how we write about alternative theatre and performance practice?

As a follow-on to our National Lottery Heritage Fund project Total Theatre Archive: Preserving 30 Years of UK Performance History, the Total Theatre Magazine editorial team are offering a series of free workshops and one-to-one mentoring sessions for a new cohort of contemporary theatre/performance artists interested in exploring writing about their own and other people’s alternative artistic practices. The project will commence 1 September and run for 12 weeks.

Total Theatre Magazine champions artist-led critical writing, putting the practitioner at the heart of the discourse about their own work and the work of their peers. For the past thirty years the magazine, first in print and now online, has played a crucial role in promoting and championing alternative theatre practice in the UK, celebrating and supporting physical and visual theatre, circus, street arts, puppetry, performance & live art, queer arts, interactive work, and more. The TTM site can be viewed at The archive is at

 The mentorship will include workshops in writing skills (on Zoom) plus a one-to-one writing development plan to include mentoring sessions to support the artists involved via whatever medium works best for each individual, and editorial guidance and feedback delivered by email. The project will result in the writing of an extended essay/article, to be published by Total Theatre Magazine.

There will be three potential strands to the research:

Reflecting on and writing about the artist’s own journey and current practice

Research into the work of other artists, companies, organisations, or artforms/strands of practice (contemporary or historic) that the artist has a particular interest in – with reference to the Total Theatre Archive and/or other archives or resources

Reflection on the response by artists to the Covid-19 epidemic

Please note this is a voluntary participatory project, offering free training and mentoring. No prior writing experience is necessary, simply a committed interest in exploring your own practice.    

How to Apply:

Please send a short letter (200-300w) telling us about your artistic background, where you’re based, and why you’d like to take part. Include an image of you or your work.

We would like to ensure that we mentor a good cross-section of artists of all sorts in the project, so would appreciate knowing if you identify as BAME, or D/deaf or disabled, or LGBTQ+, or if you feel that you are a member of an under-represented group that needs more visibility!

Send applications to editor Dorothy Max Prior:

Applications now closed. Successful applicants will be contacted by 14 August 2020.


A Fabulous Feast of Physical Theatre – LIMF 2020

Dorothy Max Prior goes to London International Mime Festival 2020 – and finds a fabulous feast of the best physical and visual theatre and performance from across the world

An intergenerational circus-theatre show about family relationships; a multi-media exploration of a fantasy love-affair with a kangaroo man; a show in which a musician and a puppeteer dance with death; a pair of clowns trapped in a cardboard world; and a darkly disturbing dance-theatre exploration of childhood.

London International Mime Festival is always an eclectic mix, and the 2020 edition (the 44th – LIMF is the longest running theatre festival in London) proved to be a fabulous feast of physical and visual theatre.  Of the eighteen shows presented – ten from overseas companies and eight from the UK, all of them world, UK or London premieres – I managed to see eight. Another two I’d previously seen and reviewed at the Edinburgh Fringe 2019. So I have ten notches on my LIMF 2020 belt…

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Let’s Fail Again! The David Glass Ensemble at 30

Dorothy Max Prior celebrates 30 years of the David Glass Ensemble, in anticipation of their Devised Theatre Creative Retreat at The Point, Eastleigh, as part of London International Mime Festival 2020

‘Let us fail at excellence, not succeed at mediocrity.’

This is one of the bold statements on the David Glass Ensemble’s website – adding up to a manifesto, really. Here are a couple more: ‘We are not here to lecture but to reveal, seduce, delight, surprise and most of all move the audience.’ And: ‘Life is inconvenient, messy and a struggle. Let theatre reflect this and you might have an artform that has passion at its root and which ordinary people might want to see.’

The Ensemble, founded in 1990, is now celebrating its thirtieth birthday – legends in their own lifetime, and pioneers of physical and devised theatre – and if they aren’t quite as well known to the greater public as contemporaries such as Complicite, it can only be because of a certain bloody-mindedness on the part of the company’s director and leader, David Glass. He is someone who has always strived to confound fans and critics alike – to tear up the rule book, to risk failure, to take the difficult path.

He is still on that path – a path that has, in recent years, often taken him away from the rather limiting environment of the regular UK theatre scene and into new territories, literally and metaphorically. When I speak to him in late November 2019, he has just returned from Rome, and is heading off the next day to China. By January, when he lands in the UK to teach a Devised Theatre Creative Retreat at The Point in Eastleigh as part of London International Mime Festival 2020, he’ll have been to China, Hong Kong and Fiji. Oh, and to Bath where the company is based (at Bath Spa University). ’Getting around is what I do!’ says David.


David Glass Ensemble: Tempest


And it’s not as if he’s just touring one show or project – on the contrary, he has so many things on the boil at once it is hard to even list them.

David tells me that his trip to China is to do pre-production work on Tarkovsky’s Last Days of Europe, which was developed in collaboration with Rolling Theatre of Macau and takes as its starting point three films of the great Russian film director, Andre Tarkovsky – Mirror, Nostalgia and Stalker – and Tarkovsky’s search for a ‘pure cinema.’ The piece grew out of a year-long process that David led with theatre artists in Macau, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. It explores the themes of ‘memory, family, nostalgia and the end of culture’

Another current production, The Shining, is an immersive piece inspired by Stephen King’s novel and Stanley Kubrick’s film of the same name.

Then there’s the Ensemble’s version of Bleak House, by Charles Dickens; Tempest, after William Shakespeare, in a new adaptation by David Glass Ensemble and KL Shakespeare Players of Malaysia; Boredom: Hell – Glass’s take on part one of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, (renamed DEvine) which sells itself as ‘Rising Damp meets Natural Born Killers’ and Mortgage (part 2), with Delusion (part 3) up and coming.

But as well as the productions listed above, much of Glass’s time is dedicated to a number of ongoing projects that are more, much more, than mere theatre shows.


David Glass Ensemble: The Lost Child Project


The most well-known of these is The Lost Child Project, which has been running for as long as the ensemble has existed. It aims to use theatre and creative participation to give a voice to marginalised and vulnerable children and young people. The creative methodology focuses on supporting and expressing young people’s imagination through group activity in a consensual and secure environment. Training of local carers, child workers and partners in the company’s well-established techniques is key to the sustainability of the project. In an article in Total Theatre Magazine (10-1, Spring 1998), David Glass explained the start of the project:

‘I had an idea, well really two. The first was to create a company which worked together for at least a year. I’d found it was only after this amount of time that creative ensemble work became possible. The second was to explore the world of children and childhood, or more particularly lost childhood. In my years of touring abroad I had heard extraordinary stories of children surviving the most terrible traumas through the use of their imagination. These two ideas propelled me through the next year of travelling. I went to South America and Asia. I spoke to experts, care workers, NGOs and, of course, children.’

For thirty years, this project has circled the globe. In its early years, it informed the creation of theatre pieces such as The Hansel Gretel Machine, The Lost Child and The Red Thread. In more recent times, it has become something that is more about process than product. Unsurprisingly, David cites Augusto Boal as an influence – the two became friends, and one of the highly successful iterations of the project took place in Brazil, with a thousand participants. The latest manifestation of The Lost Child Project takes place in Hong Kong, where David Glass and company are working with some of the younger protestors involved in the pro-democracy movement. ‘It has become the biggest youth participation project in the world’ says David. This particular strand of the project is called The River of Ophelia, and the prevention of child suicide is a focus. The Fiji trip is also to work on a linked project.


David Glass Ensemble: The AB Project


There is also now a Lost Child off-shoot called The AB Project, a three-year International Youth Arts Participation Project that takes as its focus point the horrific events of 22 July 2011, when Anders Breivik (a far-right extremist) shot dead 69 young people at a Workers Youth League summer camp on the island of Utoya in Norway. This tragic event becomes the source for positive expression and renewal. The project, which currently includes participation from nine countries across the world, embraces seminars, workshops and devising processes and in 2020 the project will culminate in an International Youth Production exploring contemporary themes of ‘political polarisation, social justice and hope’.

Not only, but also – Requiem For Change is another Ensemble project focused on contemporary concerns. It is the second iteration of a project inspired by Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything, and is another cross-globe collaboration – an epic devised work, mixing factual aspects of Naomi Klein’s life with fictional constructs about the titanic struggle between late-capitalism and climate change; potentially the last great story of humanity. It has been created by the David Glass Ensemble, LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore, and East 15 Acting School in London. Sadly, David tells me, none of the major theatre venues/ institutions in the UK are interested in supporting this work – despite support for the project from Naomi Klein herself. ‘You might understand my anger about this. It goes beyond ego – I feel it is a betrayal of young people.’


David Glass Ensemble: This Changes Everything


‘I do think boredom and anger are the great motivators for an artist!’ he says.

As you can guess from his hectic life, David Glass is someone for whom boredom is a motivating force. It was boredom that took him away from a successful career as a solo mime (which had followed on from his Paris training with both of the godfathers of modern mime, Decroux and Lecoq), with the desire to create ensemble work. ‘All I’ve ever wanted to do is fail. Fail as a solo artist, fail as an ensemble – failure is at the heart of all learning’ which I interpret as a refusal to sit back satisfied with what has been achieved, instead wanting to push forward into unchartered lands. The first David Glass Ensemble work was Popeye (1990), described by Paul Yates in a Total Theatre review as ‘a masterpiece… perfect characterisations’. The second show was Bozo’s Dead (1991) Then, in 1992, came his adaptation of Gormenghast, which he describes frankly as ‘horribly unsuccessful’ at first, although it eventually grew into something he was proud of. The seven-strong ensemble at that time included such luminaries as Peta Lily (who had also been in Popeye), Hayley Carmichael and Rae Smith.


David Glass Ensemble: Gormenghast


As for that other motivator, anger, David speaks of the time (around 1996) that he ‘walked out’ on theatre – ‘boring, middle-class, theatre’ as he puts it, in order to pursue what we might, in modern parlance, call co-creation projects such as The Lost Child, which give agency to the participants. At the time, the David Glass Ensemble had just made La Dolce Vita – a show almost universally disliked by the critics, although Total Theatre’s Brendan Stapleton gave it a good review! Jo Olsen, writing in Total Theatre a year later, said: ‘La Dolce Vita is a musical about escapism that is the antithesis of escapist; it has more to do with the squalor of journalism. Although the piece was savaged by most of the critics, there was one newspaper that applauded it on every level – The News of the World. It said: ‘If you want to see how disgusting journalists are come and see La Dolce Vita.’ David Glass’ experience of La Dolce Vita was a turning point. Despite audience appreciation, the condemnation of the press made him realise how far his work had strayed from the conventions of the Establishment.’

Although he did ‘come back’ – to make work such as the Lost Child Trilogy (late 1990s) and Unheimlich Spine (2001) – David says that he still feels outside of the British theatre establishment, which is ‘more about power than telling stories’. He says that his work has often been better received outside the UK, which perhaps set up a precedent for working elsewhere. We can note that at one point he worked with Peter Brook’s Bouffes du Nord ensemble in Paris – Brook being another British theatre director who felt the need to move away.



David Glass Ensemble: Tarkovsky’s Last Days of Europe


Talking of La Dolce Vita – and thinking of the current Tarkovsky and The Shining projects, as well as other film-inspired past projects such as Unheimlich Spine which is informed by horror film The Tingler, leads me to ask David about his obvious interest in cinema. So much of his work either directly references a film, or is cinematic in approach. It turns out that he grew up steeped in film. His mother was a Hollywood set designer, and he spent his formative years in LA on the film lots; but before this, his grandfather had been a film maker in Berlin: ‘He was a lost child, a street child – he worked his way up and became an assistant to Fritz Lang. And then in 1936, with the rise of Nazism, he moved to Switzerland and set up an animation studio, working with Lotte Reiniger…  My mother moved to LA, so I was surrounded by film people. Then we moved to England, and I got drawn into theatre.’ He cites the influence of melodrama on works such as Gormenghast and (more recently) Bleak House – and talks of ‘the terrible sickness of naturalism and realism’ that got the upper hand in British theatre. ‘The integration of the visual element with the storytelling is always very important to me’.  David also cites the influence of his scientist father – the gift from him was ‘a rigorous approach’ which has informed the development of his teaching and mentoring practices. It is interesting to note how many former students and collaborators have gone on to form renowned companies that are carrying the torch for physical and devised theatre – not least, the UK’s Gecko Theatre and Hong Kong’s Theatre Ash. Amit Lehav, artistic director of Gecko, says ‘David gave me the tools and vision for creating authentic work. I would describe my experiences in those years as my awakening and my true training in becoming an artist. David’s training is incredibly generous and deep both intellectually and experientially and for this I will be forever grateful.’ (quoted on the David Glass Ensemble website.


David Glass Ensemble Learning: David Glass with workshop students


David Glass has developed a five-stage Creative Practice – which participants on the week-long course for LIMF will experience. This course will be held outside London at The Point in Eastleigh, and central to the workshop will be an exploration of the performer as a holistic and collaborative maker. Participants will explore the tools of eliciting, image making, emergence, story structure and theme, to develop skills in the creation of original and authentic theatre making. ‘To be creative you have to lower judgement’ says David. ‘Give and receive rather than take and send – say “Yes and…” rather than “Yes but…”’ At this point in our conversation David says that one of the things he feels is wrong with contemporary physical and devised theatre is that it has lost the art of storytelling ‘Performers want to impress people rather than move people. Story is a fantastic way of organising a lot of complexity around a simple idea. So I teach the idea of the Holon – a Greek concept – which is something that has its own integrity, but is part of something that is bigger than itself’.’ He is also far keener on the idea of manifestation than of outcomes – ‘I’ve never seen an outcome in my life!’ he says. He also stresses the importance of reflection: ‘if you don’t reflect, you haven’t learnt very much.’

We talk a little about the shared experience of live theatre, and why this is more important than ever: “The virtual world is very convenient for keeping people apart and isolated’ he says, and talks of the loss of vocabulary in the English language of the moment and the ‘flattening’ of life, with much online commentary driven by feelings rather than reasoned thought processes. ‘The viscerality of life is everything. I love being present with the audience… we’ve forgotten how to be present with things. We don’t need belief systems to be present.’

As for the future, David Glass is very enthusiastic about a new collaboration with Julian Crouch, which will be in Siena, Italy in 2023.  Artists from seven different countries will be asked to participate. ’It’ll be like a Bouffon version of the Olympics. Even at the end of time, artists will be doing mad shit. I like to imagine it as my swan song.’

It is hard to know what will become of the world in the next few years, but we can be sure that whatever is happening, vital and resourceful artists such as David Glass will be there at the frontline, challenging complacency and waving the flag for risk and experimentation. Let’s fail, fail and fail again!


Featured image (top of page): David Glass Ensemble: The Shining.  

David Glass Ensemble Learning: Devised Theatre – Creative Retreat takes place from Monday 27 – Friday 31 January 2020 at The Point, Eastleigh as part of London International Mime Festival. Details:,-devised-theatre-creative-retreat/

London International Mime Festival runs Wed 8 Jan – Sun 2 Feb 2020

For more on the David Glass Ensemble, see


Out of the Box: London International Mime Festival Puppetry and Object Theatre

Dorothy Max Prior reflects on the fabulous selection of puppetry and object theatre shows being presented at London International Mime Festival 2020

Puppetry has come a long way. In these post-War Horse days, you’d be hard pushed to find an adult theatre-goer who considered puppets to be mere child’s play, and the inclusion of puppetry within the broad church of physical and visual theatre practice has become an accepted norm. From Complicite to Kneehigh, Improbable to Emergency Exit Arts, puppets and animated objects can be seen providing a crucial element of the scenography and storytelling of UK companies in our theatres, opera houses, and outdoor arts festivals. 

But many might be surprised to learn of the extraordinary range of work presented under the puppetry umbrella. In the 2020 edition of London International Mime Festival (LIMF), which runs from 8 January to 2 February in various venues across the capital, no less than six of the eighteen shows on offer feature puppetry, animation or object theatre – and it is hard to imagine six more different shows!

These shows come from all over the world, showcasing the diversity of contemporary puppetry practice: all puppet life is here. UK based String Theatre use traditional long-string marionette puppetry, with the manipulators out of sight, to tell the treasured tale of The Water Babies; whereas in Tria Fata, French company La Pendue mix and match puppeteering, live music, and physical action, creating a swirling kaleidoscope of imagery in a contemporary take on Greek mythology. In Chimpanzee, American artist Nick Lehane uses bunraku inspired table-top puppetry to tell a heartbreaking story (based on real accounts of human-chimpanzee interaction) of an animal raised in a human family, then imprisoned in a biomedical facility; whilst Opposable Thumb (UK) offers a subversive mix of slapstick, mime, puppetry, existential angst and big shoes in Coulrophobia. At the more esoteric end of puppetry practice is Kiss & Cry Collective from Belgium, whose Cold Blood brings us the story of seven surprising deaths, using intricate hand choreography, beautifully constructed miniature sets, and live-feed video; and Australia’s Fleur Elise Noble gives us ROOMAN, a surreal love story blending puppetry, projection and live performance into something resembling an animated graphic novel.    

What this broad range of shows have in common is a belief in the power of visual storytelling. Take Chimpanzee, for example. This extraordinary piece of work was inspired by Roger Fouts’ book Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees, and tells the story – wordlessly – of a chimpanzee who escapes the despair of her captive existence in a biomedical facility by piecing together memories of her childhood in a human home. 


Nick Lehane: Chimpanzee. Photo Richard Termine


The show’s writer/creator Nick Lehane is very clear that it needed to be a word-free piece:

‘It was always my intention to use no vocalised language. It’s often how I prefer to work in puppetry, but it was particularly important for this play. I wanted to make a piece with a non-human animal at the absolute centre, as the unmistakable protagonist, with the show entirely from her perspective…  I was interested in how much could be created strictly through a puppet and a soundscape. The power of puppetry is in the empathetic, imaginative leap the audience makes to believe the object is a living, breathing being. I wanted to take full advantage of that powerful pact with the audience in a show that hopes to widen the circle of empathy.’

The show was developed through The Puppet Lab at St Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn New York, and both financially supported and heartily endorsed by the Henson Foundation. Cheryl Henson, daughter of the legendary Muppets creator Jim Henson, has made the promotion of the show a personal mission, ceaselessly campaigning for European festivals to programme the work, following its phenomenal success in North America. ‘The Henson Foundation and Cheryl Henson have supported Chimpanzee at every step of it’s development’ says Nick. ‘None of this would have been possible without their unwavering commitment to this piece.’

Talking of the scenography of the piece, Nick says:

‘The world the chimpanzee lives in is largely sonic and light based, as well as centred around special nostalgic objects. When she’s in the present – in the cage – she interacts with the floor as literal space. In memory, miming techniques are used for her to interact with invisible architecture and move across expansive spaces without leaving the confined table top.’

The crucial sound design is by Kate Marvin, with lighting design by Marika Kent and Ayumu Poe Saegusa. The chimpanzee puppet at the heart of the piece is described by Nick as ‘a pretty simple object. Her insides are wood and cord. Her body is mostly carved white bead-foam, and her outside is papier-mâché. She’s a table top puppet – a style that that was inspired by the Japanese bunraku tradition.’ And as is usually the case with bunraku-inspired work, she is animated by a trio of puppeteers – the human beings on stage are there as operators, not characters.


La Pendue: Tria Fata. Photo Tomas Vimmr


In La Pendue’s Tria Fata there is a very different onstage set-up. The piece – inspired by the myth of the The Three Fates, who spin the thread of life, and decide when it will be cut – is performed by Estelle Charlier and Martin Kaspar Läuchli, a puppeteer and a musician – although it wasn’t quite this simple to start with.

Romuald Collinet, co-founder of the company (with Estelle Charlier), explains:

‘Our starting point was for Estelle and I to work together to build some visual ideas, using puppetry to explore the symbolism of strings; and the themes of life and death. After five years of rehearsal, we had three or four hours of material cut into several versions, using musicians, actors, and puppeteers… So we tried to find a simple version for one puppeteer and one musician. We were less interested in staying true to the myth than in provoking emotions with our ideas; exploring the mystery of life through one character – an old lady on the edge between life and death. It’s food for the collective unconscious – poetry with a popular sauce.’

The food analogies linger, as speaking of the mix of forms used in the piece – which include movement, mask, puppetry of various kinds, and live music –Romuald adds: ‘Think of it as the ingredients for good cooking!’

The collaboration and complicity between puppeteer-performer Estelle Charlier and musician Martin Kaspar Lauchli (who creates the delicious soundscape using clarinet, accordion, drums and voice) is described by Romuald simply as ‘Love!’. 

On their website, La Pendue state a desire ‘to defend puppetry as a universal human symbol able to reveal dark zones, to alter social masks, and to guide the spectator toward his inner self’. Romuald elucidates:

‘An actor has limits that the puppet doesn’t have, and a puppet has limits that the actor doesn’t have. But the puppet is empty… It does not sweat, does not sing, does not live, and does not die. The puppet does nothing but be, or not be, without asking the famous question. It is not even a historical jester’s skull. The puppet is nothing. It is only what the public accepts it to be. The puppet is empty of ego and empty of soul… If the puppet is well employed (using aesthetics, technique, words, manipulation, emotion, etc.) then the spectator identifies with it, and fills it with his personal projections and perhaps, we believe, fills it with his soul. Then the puppet becomes an emotional vector of great power.’

For La Pendue, who trained and met at France’s renowned national puppetry school at Charleville Mezieres, there is no question of whether to use puppetry or not:  ‘We are first puppeteers, secondly actors. We think puppets. That’s how it is.’


String Theatre: The Water Babies


Also totally steeped in the puppetry world are String Theatre, which was formed by third-generation marionettist Stan Middleton, whose family run London’s famous Puppet Theatre Barge; and Soledad Zarate, from Argentina. Soledad reflects on how the company was formed:

‘I met Stan at the Puppet Theatre Barge, where I trained to become a marionettist in 2007. Stan was working with his grandparents and mother in the first marionette production I got involved in as a trainee, The Ancient Mariner by Coleridge. At the end of the traineeship, I created a short shadow piece based on The Red Balloon, the French silent film of 1956 by Lamorisse and Stan helped me…’

So both Stan and Soledad are used to using pre-existing works – books or films – as a starting point. But why, in particular, Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies?

‘I wasn’t brought up in England, so I came across the book as an adult,’ says Soledad. ‘I’m fascinated by stories set in Victorian times, and when I finished the book I could not think of a better story for the marionette stage. There are elements in the book that can be expressed particularly well with marionettes. After Tom, the little chimney sweep, transforms into a water baby, the possibilities are endless.’

The main form used, as the company’s name suggests, is long-string marionettes – but shadow puppetry also plays a part:

‘When Tom escapes from his cruel master Mr Grimes, there is a fast-paced chase scene amid rooftops and trees. With the use of light, we are able to convey the journey that leads Tom to his water life.’

The Water Babies is a word-free piece in which the music composition and sound design is a vital element. The composer is Jimmy Sheals and the puppeteers worked very closely with him:

‘He attended rehearsals so that he could see the puppets in action and get an understanding of what we wanted to achieve. It was a very easy process of mutual understanding where I feel that the musician greatly contributed to the artistic value of the show.’

String Theatre have so far made four marionette productions and in all of them, the operators are out of view. Soledad explains why:

‘The idea is to create a space where the audiences can be transported and their imaginations sparked. The lack of human presence on stage allows us to create a world where perspective and lighting can be used to represent something in the distance, for example. By losing the human reference, the focus is exclusively on the puppets, which are our only and main characters.’


Opposable Thumb: Coulrophobia. Photo Adam Laity


At the other end of the spectrum, with its in-your-face human performers, is Opposable Thumb’s Coulrophobia (fear of clowns). It’s a subversive clown and object theatre show performed by the company’s founders Dik Downey and Adam Blake, who are directed by John Nicholson (of Peepolykus fame). It is in some ways a classic two-man clown relationship, built on the performers’ own individual characteristics and foibles, says Dik Downey:

‘Adam and I discovered that we were a pretty good team whilst working on The Shop of Little Horrors [for Dik’s previous company, Pickled Image].Our characters accidentally reflected us in life – Adam young and keen, me old and grumpy – but together we seemed to bring out the best in each other. Once we decided that we were going to make a new show, we knew we were going to play on our differing characteristics, exaggerating them to comic extremes. I knew John from seeing Peepolykus shows since the mid 1990s. I really love John’s humour and his style of theatre, and he seemed like a natural fit for Coulrophobia. The devising process consisted of us locked in a room attempting to make him laugh. Adam and I threw ideas at him and he would turn them on their heads. We played lots of status games, satirising traditional circus routines… John’s main task was to take the huge amount of material we came up with and hone it into a cohesive show.’   

Dik has worked with puppets for decades, but mixing it up with latex masked characters – so replacing the mask with clown makeup wasn’t a big step. He also says, ‘I wanted to keep puppets within the show, but didn’t want to make a puppet show per se’. At one point, Dik gave the show the tag line ‘crap clowns do puppets’ – although LIMF’s brochure gives the rather more elegant description of ‘two clowns in search of freedom from a bewildering cardboard world.’ So why cardboard, Dik?

‘I love cardboard! My big idea was that we would ask each theatre we performed at to supply us with huge quantities of cardboard boxes and then we would arrive early with tape and a glue gun and build the set and props. Luckily that idea was too ridiculous to be feasible… We actually made the show at Nordland Visual Theatre (NVT) on the Lofoten Islands in the Arctic Circle and they had collected as much cardboard as they could find in such a remote place. I often work with a fantastic puppet maker, Emma Powell, and it was her task to make anything we asked for through the devising process, be it cardboard cowboy hats, a ship or even a cardboard chainsaw. Emma and I then built the set from large boxes for fridge-freezers and I had some boxes custom-made by a cardboard box company in Bristol. The set fits inside itself like Russian dolls. One thing I have discovered is that en-masse, cardboard is bloody heavy!’


Fleur Elise Noble: ROOMAN. Photo Bryony Jackson


Another London International Mime Festival artist with a love of the material world is Fleur Elise Noble, who brings us ROOMAN. Fleur is a true Renaissance woman – a visual artist who loves paper and film equally; a theatre-maker interested in exploring the crossroads where music, dance and physical performance meet. LIMF regulars will be familiar with Fleur’s work through 2-Dimensional Life of Her (presented in 2012). So can we expect more of the same, or something radically different?

ROOMAN is of a similar visual language to 2Dimensional Life of Her, however it is a little bit more sophisticated, both technically and performatively. It is bigger, faster, louder, and the set is in a constant state of transformation. I still love 2D Life of Her for its quiet, humble simplicity, but I also very much enjoy the ambition and liveliness of the ROOMAN performance.’

The new show tells the fabulously surreal story of a young woman who only finds relief from her monotonous existence when she meets a kangaroo man in her dreams – and is ultimately faced with the choice, to give up or to wake up… The ROOMAN character was apparently first encountered by Fleur in her own dreams!

It is an extraordinary multi-media (in the original sense of that term) mash-up; a cleverly weaved together tapestry of puppetry, projection, animation, dance and music which combines into something its creator describes as ‘basically, a visual-musical pop-up book extravaganza!’ How on earth did she go about creating such a rich multi-layered piece of work?

‘The projection/animation is all created over a very long period of time – about five years,’ says Fleur. ‘I map it all together in my head, on paper, and then start the process of projecting onto a miniature set. Many of the visual ideas have come to me in dreams, or in flashes of inspiration. Other ideas have come thorough a series of problem solving and happy mistakes. The live action is led by the video mapped content. The three puppeteers are constantly moving around the space bringing the surfaces to life using a complex and fast moving series of cues.’

Music is a crucial element of the production, and Fleur collaborated with Jamaican-Canadian singer and songwriter Seven Chosen (previously known as Sarah Reid) in the making of the piece:

‘Seven and I met in the Philippines – she blew me away with her beautiful music and incredible creative mind. Soon after, we brought her over to Australia to devise some of the music for ROOMAN. She became an integral part of the creative process – dissecting the story and meaning with, in, and through each moment of the work.’


Kiss & Cry Collective: Cold Blood. Photo Julien Lambert


Also using intricate sets, live physical performance and projection comes Kiss & Cry Collective, with their latest piece, Cold Blood. The show features (amongst many other visual delights): Begin the Beguine performed by two tap-dancing hands sporting silver thimbles; a tank of water agitated into a sea of flickering blue ripples by fluttering fingers; and a witty choreography for six hands enacted to Ravel’s Bolero. All of this is performed live on stage, but also seen magnified on screen, as roving cameras use live-feed video to create what is, in essence, a movie filmed and edited in real time, in front of the audience. Nothing is hidden, everything is there to see: the process and the product; the ‘making of’ and the end result.

The show is a collaboration between renowned filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael and choreographer Michèle Anne de Mey, working with writer Thomas Gunzig – the same team that created the company’s eponymous first show, Kiss & Cry (which was also presented at LIMF). Where the first show explored love – and specifically, the five loves of its female narrator (one for each finger of her beautifully expressive hand), Cold Blood takes death as its subject. Not just one death, but seven – seven strange deaths inspiring seven short stories of poignant or absurd last moments which are woven into one complete tapestry. In the company’s work, the interplay of live and mediated image is a perfect metaphor for the processes of memory: the real moment and the recorded moment in dialogue with each other.

In an interview with dance critic Donald Hutera, Gregory Grosjean (who performed in the first show, and is also one of the three dancers in Cold Blood, along with de Mey and Gabriela Iacono) says of the company’s work: ‘We create a whole world with little things, and put big meaning into these little things.’ Michèle Anne de Mey adds, ‘Some of us were coming from movies, or dance, or technology, but from the beginning everybody was together and everybody could explore the areas of the other ones.’ As for those beautifully expressive hands, de Mey plays down the skill: ‘’What we do with our hands is not really special. This is quick to learn because we are dancers who know what it is to be onstage, and the rest of the body is also onstage. But there has to be the music of playing together… Now when we are onstage, everybody is scored really precisely. To be together in the score is to be in accord with everybody.’

Collaboration is the key in this company: collaboration between artforms; collaboration between performers and technicians. Each person involved in the process brings their own skills, but is also open to experimenting with other forms. In fact, we can see that collaboration and cross-artform pollination is at the heart of all the puppetry and object theatre shows discussed here. Each, it its own distinct way, opens the theatrical tool-box to use whatever is needed in the service of the show.

London International Mime Festival has a well deserved reputation for presenting the best contemporary puppetry and object theatre from across the world. The festival’s 2020 edition brings us a superb selection of work that both embraces and usurps the traditions of the form – whatever your taste, there will be a puppetry show for you.


Featured image (top) Fleur Elise Noble: ROOMAN. Photo Bryony Jackson

London International Mime Festival 2020 runs 8 January to 2 February. For full details of all referenced shows, and to book tickets, see



Lucy McCormick: Post Popular

Yep, Lucy’s back, and the triple threat is intact: she sings, she dances, she acts as if born in a trunk to the side of a vaudeville stage; caustically camp, using popular entertainment mores and memes as a sledgehammer to demolish expectations of the female performer on stage. And once again she has a brace of buff boy dancers, Samir Kennedy and Rhys Hollis, to back her (up) – ‘artists in their own right’ she says (the joke in her earlier show, Triple Threat, is repeated in Post Popular) – just not tonight, because it’s Lucy’s show. And boy, oh boy you better believe it and know your place. There’s bump and grind, smut and grime, and of course no fourth wall – we are in Music Hall mode, essentially.

But why ‘post popular’? Perhaps because, this one takes all the things set up in Triple Threat and twists or subverts or stretches them into something that is most definitely beyond popular entertainment. Post popular. You think this is going to be just a fun night out? Think again. Triple Threat (which tackles The New Testament with blasphemous hilarity) is borderline: you could go along with a group of drunken mates and enjoy it all as a good laugh, although there is depth and thoughtfulness for those who want it. Post Popular pushes beyond that entertainment borderline into something darker. You laugh, but then the laughter freezes in your throat, leaving you feeling disturbed, uneasy. There are whole sections (particularly in the mock-interval scene) where the onstage Lucy persona looks forlorn, abandoned, vulnerable.

Our expectations are constantly pre-empted and usurped. We’re expecting a naked Lucy, we get a tacky ‘flesh’ coloured bodysuit with tits and fanny drawn on in black felt tip, somehow reminiscent of a costume from a Forced Entertainment show. And Forced Ents are a good point of reference for much of this show, which in some ways is closer to the work of Lucy’s previous company, GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN than it is to Triple Threat, despite the superficial similarities of the two shows. There is more Forced Ents-ness in the absurd Penguin wrapper jokes; the bloody mess of the stage; the dead pantomime horse that just lies there for a whole scene.

Following on from the infamous Doubting Thomas (a finger in every orifice) scene in the earlier show, which was built up to with ever-more outrageous moments, we get full-on rimming here in the first five minutes. It just happens all of a sudden, thrown away, almost, to get it over and done with. There, she seems to say – I’ve done what you’ve expected me to do. Now what?

Historical re-enactments being her thing, as she claims at the beginning of the show, we leave behind the New Testament to instead learn all about the famous women in history. All four of them: Eve, who screwed up the whole world (back to the bible, then); Boudicca, who you can’t really ignore as she’s Rule Brittania personified, perfect for these Brexit obsessed days; Florence Nightingale, who is famous for giving herself selflessly to the care of others; and Anne Boleyn, who is famous for dying. Yep, that’s women for you! She muses on whether the Suffragettes should be included, but gives up on that.

The audience have a crucial role to play – as the marauding Roman army, say, Lucy clambering over us, screeching and waving an axe, to the sound of Metallica cranked up to maximum volume. Or as Anne Boleyn’s accusers – given a mic, audience members play along happily: ‘You’re a slag and you deserve to die’ ‘Fucking whore!’ ‘Just die, right now, we hate you.’ Yep, you don’t need me to say anything further…  Lucy and her boys are all clad in black full-head hoods, and with the aid of a couple of bottles of tomato ketchup, she enacts a very gory demise for poor Anne, who obviously asked for it. Here, as elsewhere, the Karaoke choices are excellent –  The Sheryl Crow arrangement of ‘First Cut is the Deepest’ morphing into Basement Jaxx’s ‘Where’s Your Head At?’.

And the dance routines are as sassy as ever – the Eve, Adam and Serpent scene could easily have come out of the earlier show, with its  rhythmic thrusts and spot-on choreography of stamping feet (all three clad in superb thigh-high patent leather boots) and apple smashing. But this is the beginning of the show, and by the time we’re on Florence Nightingale, we’re getting a truly disturbing playing out of female pain, Lucy’s fits of screaming  – ‘What’s wrong with me? What’s WRONG with me?’ – moving from melodramatic ‘hysterical’ to truly tortuous and unsettling horror. Laugh? I almost died.

The ending brings us back to alternative cabaret mode with a fabulous rendition of Mariah Carey’s ‘Hero’ replete with a delightfully unsubtle reference to the Hanky Panky trick made famous by the show’s director,  Ursula Martinez. Look inside and you’ll find a hero lies in you…

Despite the upbeat ending, I leave feeling discombobulated – a bit woozy, unsettled, with a nasty taste in my mouth. It’s a show I don’t love in the viewing, but the more I think about it afterwards, the more I like it.

Funny peculiar, rather than funny ha ha (although that too, in parts). Genuinely shocking, but not for the obvious reasons. A very clever piece of work. 


Featured image(top): Lucy McCormick: Post Popular. Photo Holly Revell

Lucy McCormick’s Post Popular plays an extended run at Soho Theatre 3 – 14 Dec 2019, and again 10 – 22 Feb 2020

Commissioned by The Marlborough Theatre, Attenborough Centre for Creative Arts and Soho Theatre with funding from Arts Council England and support from Outburst Queer Arts Festival