Pure magic

September’s International Puppet Festival was probably the best thing you missed this year, suggests Dan Bergin

September’s International Puppet Festival was probably the best thing you missed this year, suggests Dan Bergin

The glorious winter finally approaches. Cold, wet, but exciting. As everyone flocks back from whatever supposedly mind-blowing activity they were spending their summer doing, stories start to fly around campus of the fantastic summers everyone seems to have had – remember, smugness is not a virtue.

Inevitably though, this is always a time tinged with regret. Regret for all the things you missed. That concert you were away for but all your friends loved, that holiday you forgot to book, that night out in the pub that turned into an impromptu session and a party out in Maynooth. Everyone had great craic but you weren’t there because you couldn’t be bothered coming out “for one.” Well, don’t bother cheering up because there’s one more thing to add to the list of great summer things you missed: The Irish International Puppet Festival 2008.

I love puppets. And so do you. The thing is, you’ve just forgotten how much you love them. Society has told you to stop loving puppets because you’re not a child any more. But you still love them. I guarantee it. Steer yourself over to YouTube and search for “Lejo.” Then hit what ever comes up. Go on. The paper isn’t going anywhere. Done it? See? Pure magic. Puppets have been around in various forms for centuries. The problem is that some people have just forgotten or deny their puppetry love because they think that once you grow up you’re not allowed to like puppets. This is exactly the kind of attitude the puppet festival wants to undermine.

See, the thing I like most about puppetry is that it is always a little amazing. Even when I can see the strings, somehow, when the puppet reaches over and slaps the puppeteer in the face, I still crack a smile.

Lejo is just one of the host of internationally acclaimed acts which graced the stages of the Lambert Puppet Theatre and Pavilion Theatre during this year’s International Puppet Festival. Celebrating its fifteenth year, the festival ran from 18 to 21 September, providing nearly a week and a half full of ooohs, ahhhs and giggles. The astute amongst us may recognise these dates as having conflicted with this year’s Dublin Fringe Festival, that pink monstrosity which demonstrated to all that eighty percent of all theatre in Ireland is not up to scratch. Trust me, the Puppet Festival was better.

Described by artistic director Ronan Tully as “a snapshot of what’s happening in puppetry around the world,” the festival showcased performers from around the world staging pieces that varied from the innovative use of random objects to the aggressive reinterpretation and mastery of the traditional forms.

Even when I can see the strings, somehow, when the puppet reaches over and slaps the puppeteer in the face, I still crack a smile

Unfortunately, though, the festival was not without its minor shortcomings. As with any festival there is always one performance that is more for people “of the industry” – to get the best out of it, you’d have to be a puppet nerd. For me, this was the performance by Phillip Huber of his famous marionettes. Some of you may recognise this name as the man whose puppets featured in the film Being John Malkovich. Though at times interesting, the performance failed to bring the joy that other acts did, as the main attraction was the complexity of this man’s creations. It can essentially be summed up by Mr. Huber’s statement that he found it a challenge to get a marionette to do a forward tumble, my response being “What’s so hard about that?”

Nevertheless, the rest of the festival was the one of the best summer activities you could ever have missed. Forget that show you saw in the Fringe that just about made the grade, or that piece in the Dublin Theatre Festival that was a lot of money for a lot of nothing. This festival was pure gold and didn’t mean mortgaging your parents’ holiday home.

My pick of the bunch came from a group called Jordi Bertran. Their founder, Mr. Bertran himself, opened the festival on Thursday with a wonderful marionette sequence in which a puppet alchemist did tricks while blowing bubbles. Silent, simple, yet astoundingly beautiful, Mr. Bertran and his wooden assistant built avalanches of colour from thin, oily films and pearl-white smoke.

Their main act, from which, incidentally, you can catch the “guitar and marionette” scene on YouTube, consisted of a most imaginative and entertaining sequence of short sketches.

zvThe piece began with the introduction of a number of letters of the alphabet, each crafted in soft yellow foam. The performers then proceeded to transform these letters into everything from Olympic runners to prehistoric birds.

Don’t panic: the festival will be back next year, with plans to expand the number of venues and artists and to spread the word that puppetry isn’t just for kids. So get yourself on out to the Salthill & Monkstown stop on the Dart, and catch the wave of felt and googly eyes that will be crashing onto our shores next year.

For details on what went on and what’s still to come, visit the Puppet Festival website. www.puppetfest.ie