Puppets: The Magical Ancient Art Form Makes a Comeback

When it comes to popular entertainment in the 21st century, there is never a shortage of dynamic and exciting images coming at us from the ever-increasing number of screens we keep close at hand; TVs, computers, smart phone devices. In the movie theatre, we’ve moved from 3D to 4D with each new film showcasing bigger and better effects expected by the audience as we quickly grow accustomed to and even blasé about something that was really quite spectacular just a short time before.
This leads one to ask how it is then possible that the very simple, non-digital art form of puppetry, which has been around for nearly 3000 years, continues to be a viable medium today that is still growing and developing to suit modern audiences.  In particular, we’ve seen a resurgence of puppets in popular entertainment for both children and adults that began near the end of the last century and continues into current days. Think The Muppets, The Lion King or War Horse to name just a few.
Perhaps it is the magic that seems to live inside a puppet.  A unique, often hand-crafted puppet, just sitting on a shelf seems to have a story etched into its placid face which comes to life when manipulated by a talented puppeteer.  You might even think, quite incredibly, that you see tiny but noticeable changes in a puppet’s expression.  How could that be if not for a little magic?  We seem to have an innate ability to suspend disbelief when watching a puppet show, even when the puppeteer is fully visible to the audience, as is the case with The Puppet State Theatre’s production of The Man Who Planted Trees.
It could also be the fact that puppets are social and interactive creations.  In the age of social media, the ability to interact with art has become increasingly important.  Young audiences in particular are interested in engaging in some way with what they see on stage or film even if it’s as simple as a text to vote or liking a link on Facebook.  Through history, puppets have encouraged an intellectual interaction by challenging audiences to see the world differently.  They’re often a means of transmitting cultural values and cultivating new ideas, gently asking us to reconsider social norms that may need changing.
In February, we’ll present the Edinburgh-based Puppet State Theatre Company in their production of The Man Who Planted Trees.  True to the form, this delightful show has an environmental challenge to offer, inspiring us to make a difference in our own backyards.  The story, based on a novel by Jean Giono, is about a shepherd who sets out to plant a forest and transform a barren landscape, accompanied by his faithful dog.
You’ll be pleased to discover 4D is not just for the big screen as the show’s multisensory elements allow you to hear the wind, feel the rain and smell the lavender in a unique blend of comedy, puppetry and storytelling. The partly improvised nature of the comic scenes means that no two shows are alike. Richard Medrington and Rick Conte (the puppeteer behind ‘Dog’) created the show with artist Ailie Cohen, and have managed to keep things fresh despite having performed together around 1,500 times.
This family show for adults and children over 7 has the rare ability to appeal right across the age range and if you don’t have any kiddies to bring along, not to worry, adults unaccompanied by children are very welcome indeed.

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