There are various ways in which the Mari Lwyd will appear in the forthcoming The Mare’s Tale project for the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra… (Composer: Mark Bowden, Writer: Damian Walford Davies. Director/Designer: Clive Hicks-Jenkins and Artistic Director/Conductor: James Slater.) … and this puppet is just one of them.
It takes two puppeteers to animate the figure, and they’ll be in full view of the audience, performing ‘Bunraku’- style. One supports and operates the puppet with controls at the back of the head and pelvis, and the second is responsible for the legs, operated by controls in the heels. (The Mari has no arms.) The puppetry is to be given live in front of the audience, and the performance streamed to a large screen above the musicians, narrator and puppeteers.
So cool! Pared down to the essentials. Wonderfully done, of course!
Thank you Thom. It’s been so long since I last made a puppet that I feared I’d forgotten how. But I see now that it’s like riding a bike, and you just have to get back on!
My parents gave me my first puppet… a Pelham marionette… when I was seven, and I was fifteen and a half when I went to work full-time for a puppet company called the Caricature Theatre.
Throughout my career in the theatre as a choreographer and director, I used puppets whenever opportunities allowed. Later as a painter, I evolved methods of using maquettes… which are puppets by a different name… as studio aids. But oddly enough, when James Slater and I started discussing the possibilities of the Mari Lwyd drawings as the theme for a new music work, puppets per se were not the first things that sprang to mind. I imagined the imagery would draw directly on the artworks, perhaps using them as projected backdrops. But it wasn’t long before other ideas began to emerge about how to put the Mari on a stage. The puppets were back!
I think puppets are such a deep part of what I’ve been and what I still am that there’s a seed-store of them below my surface, and every now and again they break through unbidden, like grass. At heart, and whatever else I’ve been called in life… actor, dancer, choreographer, director… artist… perhaps what I really am is all of those things. I’m a puppeteer.
It’s a triumph! At the outset I would have said this was not an easy thing to pull off but the puppet looks like it could have so many different moods, there is a great air of horror about it but other layers too, it’s got a heck of a presence
Well you’ve nailed it there, Phil, with your description of ‘presence’. In puppetry, presence is everything, and it’s what all puppet-makers aspire to with their creations. The Mari Lwyd puppet feels as though it’s going to turn in a good performance. It responds well in the hands, though I need another pair to get a proper sense of things, it being a two-operator puppet.
How exciting it has been to follow the long process in its creation, and now it is there! Congratulations! I dearly wish I could be at the show. Will you film it for those of us far away?
Too early to say yet, but I guess there’s always the possibility of a filmed version. We’ll see how things shape up.
Really interesting to see the progress from maquette to an actual moving puppet. I assume those are dowelling rods with hooks on the end, and papier mache rib cage and was there a wire frame to mould the head, I wonder. The spiky end bone on the nose and the eyes too, set back in the sockets give a scary unsettling effect, oh and also the half black and white painted feet are menacingly supernatural. Not your average friendly common and garden hobby horse.
Hello Janet. The head, ribcage, pelvis and feet have armatures made from taped-together card, though there are dowel rods incorporated into them to add strength and be the anchors for the screw-eyes. I model over the top with a laminate of brown-paper gum-strip which dries very hard, and finish off with gesso and primer before painting. The legs and spine are indeed of dowel, but I gum-strip over them to make consistent textures overall.
No, not at all a friendly looking hobby-horse. This one has attitude!
Anita is right. When I read the the jury was out regarding the ears it sounded like they were to be omitted! What a tour de force Clive. I don’t know much but I think that in professional hands Mari Lwyd will have definite presence and effect.
Lesley, the ears just needed to be the right shape and in the best position. There was a point where a pair that were a tad too large made the Mari look more like a scary bunny, but I think I’ve got them right now.
Scary bunny! Not sure this creature could ever partake of the word “bunny,” even with big ears… Loved John Coulthart’s tweet: “The Mari Lwyd is completed, the Eschaton will commence in due course. Have a nice day.”
Ha ha! I shall have to look up J C’s tweet… having not yet become a tweeter myself! Thanks for the tip-off.
No, really, just like a scary bunny!
Bravo!! She’s fabulous! I’m glad you added the ears… they bridge the gap between object and expression, I think. Well done, Mister. xo. AM
Thanks Anita. I’m happy with the ears, but now I need to see the puppet operating in stage-lighting conditions. I want the sense of the figure for the audience… a mood rather than the details… and having the intervention of the camera between the puppet and what’s seen on the screen will allow plenty of room for visual ambiguity and general creativity.