Skipton Puppet Festival 2017

Growing up not far from Skipton in Yorkshire, it was great to return there this weekend for Skipton Puppet Festival. This is my first year at the festival, and I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it until this year. Getting to spend some time with my sister Amie while soaking up the atmosphere and being immersed in my passion made for a pretty special day. I even bumped into several puppetry friends, old and new.

The weather gave us the usual northern welcome – grey skies and drizzle – but it did nothing to dampen the spirits of the crowds in the Festival Hubsite. This area was the beating heart of the festival, and a wonderful nucleus of activity, live music, free performances and food, plus several giant puppets wandering around.

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Marionettes made by Lenka at praguemarionette.com

We just went along for the day on Sunday, so there were several intriguing shows on Friday and Saturday that I missed, but it’s been a busy month of festivals, conferences and workshops so I had to watch the pennies. In the morning we saw Rusty Nails and Other Heroes by TAMTAM Objektentheater, which was marvellous. I suppose you would call it a mixture of puppetry and object manipulation, and it combined live and recorded music, the action moving from a table, to cleverly crafted scenes created to the side of this and projected onto a screen via a live camera, back to the central playing space. From objects you might find in a scrap heap they created little worlds and delightful characters, exploring the creative potential of all these discarded materials.

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Amie playing with one of Lenka’s marionettes

In the Hubsite we came across The Errant Stage, the brilliant little mobile performance venue in a van, brainchild of Kate Powell and Jonna Nummela to provide a sustainable and free performance space for fellow artists. I first met Kate and heard about the van at the festival breakfast with Sarah Wright at Bristol Festival of Puppetry last month, so I was chuffed to be able to see it in action. My sister and I climbed the stairs and parked our bottoms on an array of cushions to watch the ever so talented Emma of Nudge Puppets perform Finger Fatale, a hand striptease. Intriguing indeed, and a stroke of creative genius. What a treat. After that we headed to the scratch tent to check out some new work and leave feedback, then wandered into the main marquee, where we came across Lenka Cain Pavlíčková’s beautiful wooden marionettes. We got to see Lenka at work, carving away, and even had a play with a lovely little marionette. I have a soft spot for marionettes – known as possibly the most difficult form of puppetry to master, marionettes have always filled me with wonder.

In the evening we saw the final show of the festival, Death Puppet Klezma Jam by Mirth and Misery, in Skipton town hall. It was absolutely brilliant. When the dancing zombie came on I laughed til I cried. The live music was phenomenal – accordion, double bass, percussion and either violin or viola playing foot-stomping Eastern European music with gusto and immense skill. The puppets themselves were wonderfully curious-looking creatures, each with a distinctive personality that delighted the audience. With the vibe these guys created the festival ended on an energetic high.

I can’t believe that, despite growing up in this area, this is the first Skipton Puppet Festival I’ve been to. My sister and I had such a brilliant time. Combining the magic and skill of puppetry with a healthy dose of good old northern spirit, it really was a weekend to remember. Long may the festival continue!

Long weekend in Prague

Beauty. Chaos. Intrigue. Delicacy. Strength. Prague embodies all of these things, and more. As part of my 30th birthday present from my boyfriend, I got the chance to visit this magical city, and it has left a lasting impression on my mind, my body and my senses.

Staying in an apartment about five minutes away from the castle, we had a beautiful view of Petrin Hill and a monastery from our balcony. Each day we wandered down the hill into the main part of the city, crossing the infamous Charles Bridge. The guide books all tell you to avoid the bridge during the middle of the day, and with good reason – the crowds make it nigh impossible to get from one end to the other at anything above a slow plod.

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Charles Bridge

There’s far too much to write about to fit in one blog post, which is partly why this post is so overdue – I’ve started and stopped about five times over the past few weeks, struggling to decide what to mention and what to leave out. The architecture was one of the main delights, but I’ll leave it to the many photos I’ve posted to give you a flavour of that. Needless to say, it’s beautiful. The food was perhaps our least favourite aspect, with one exception, as the traditional dishes were quite heavy on our stomachs. (The wine, however, went down much better!) The exception was the trdelník, a pastry made from rolled dough grilled on a long metal stick, with sugar and walnut mix sprinkled all over. We saw them being made in little shop fronts all over the city, and my god they were delicious.

On the Saturday night we saw a play in Czech at the Estates Theatre, where Mozart conducted the world premiere of his opera Don Giovanni. I was thrilled to be experiencing theatre in a different language, but I think my boyfriend was a little less so – ah the joys of dating an actor! He sat through it though and did enjoy most of it, though the finer details were rather lost on us, due to the language barrier. The play was Mikveh by Hadar Galron, so we saw an Israeli play performed in Czech!

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Sadly we didn’t get to see a performance at the National Marionette Theatre as all the weekend shows were booked up. BUT I did buy my first marionette (see right). Handmade in Prague, she wasn’t cheap, but it was some of my birthday money well spent!

I had a wonderful few days in this city, and highly recommend it to anyone who loves beautiful architecture, a buzzing atmosphere and a good dose of ‘culture’. I can’t wait to go back and explore some more!