Figuren Theatre Company

Rima Staines in her edge-of-Dartmoor cottage

In September artist and Artlogger Rima Staines and her partner Tom Hirons travelled by camper-van from their home on the edge of Dartmoor to Brecon to see the single performance of The Mare’s Tale.

dium%3B+online+shop+of+Tom+HironsMask-maker, story-teller and acupuncture practitioner Tom Hirons, mercurial behind one of his own masks

In December Peter and I received an enigmatic invitation from Howard Gayton, dramatist and mask and puppet performer, to attend a performance of a short ‘work-in-progress’ he’d been collaborating on with puppet enthusiasts Rima, Nomi McLeod and Andy Letcher.

Dramatist and mask and puppet performer Howard Gayton

The fifteen-minute work was to be given in the ‘Cabin at the Edge of the Woods’ at Gayton’s home in Chagford, North Devon. An added incentive to the invitation… not that one was needed… was that at last I’d meet Howard’s wife, author Terri Windling. Terri used to run the Endicott Journal of Mythic Arts with Midori Snyder, and she had once interviewed me for the journal. (I’d also provided an Elijah and the Raven image for a banner on the Endicott News and Reviews page.)

Author Terri Windling

And as if all this wasn’t enough, we were offered accommodation by Howard’s mum, the wonderful Jenny, in a converted barn behind her cottage.

The work was titled How the Hoggler got its Name, and the company of players went by the name of Figuren Theatre. Peter, Jack and I, together with the the rest of the tiny audience that would fit into the ‘cabin’, arrived after dark at Howard and Terri’s home, where Tom Hirons welcomed and ushered us into a ‘holding-space on the stairwell. We were at the fourth of five performances that day, and the arrangements cleverly kept apart the groups attending, so the sense of mystery shrouding the event was preserved. When the time came we were all led outside to climb the candle-lined path through the winter night to the cabin twinkling above us. At the door we shed our boots and shoes and were led into a tiny darkened space where we were invited to sit on duvets and cushions on the ground.

The audience is captivated by the plaintive sound of a flute

There were about eight of us crammed into a space the size of a large cupboard. Astonishingly, when I glanced behind me, I found I was pressed against Alan Lee, a Chagford resident when he’s not in New Zealand working as the concept artist for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films.

Rima and Howard operate the Hoggler, and Andy Letcher is narrator and musician

The charismatic Andy Letcher on flute set the atmosphere, and as soon as we were all settled, he began his story-telling. Jack sat bolt-upright in his ‘beg’ psition to better see the stage. When the bundle of rags that was the Hoggler began to stir into life, he was rapt, and when the little puppet finally gave cry in a honking squawk brilliantly voiced by Howard, Jack barked straight back at him, which made everyone laugh. What I found staggering was that Jack’s eye-line never once wavered toward the puppeteers. Throughout the performance he was completely focussed on the puppet and on Andy.

Nomi and Rima bring the Hoggler to life

Rima made the puppet

The following day Rima took us to see her cosy loft-studio, and afterwards to visit Alan Lee at his home. We also met with Alan’s daughter Virginia, herself an extraordinary illustrator. Alan showed us around his studio… currently being used by Virginia… and he made me the gift of a signed copy of the Mabinogion, wonderfully decorated with his images. He’s an extraordinary man, gentle and rather twinkly. He could be a magician himself. (Well, of course he is one!)

themabinogion

We had a wonderful time in Chagford with Rima, Tom, Howard, Terri, Jenny, Nomi, Andy, and Alan and his daughter Virginia. My friend, puppeteer Todd, was away in Germany puppeteering on the stage production of Ice Age, but in his absence we were welcomed by his wife Carol and her family, and they made our last hours in Chagford truly memorable. It was a brief but wonderful holiday, brimming with excellent company, stimulating conversation and great food to fuel us. (I had the best Welsh Rarebit ever in Chagford’s New Forge Café!)

We will return!

Jack, comfortably snoozing in front of Tom and Rima’s wood-burning stove.

Nomi and Rima write eloquently about their experiences of working on How the Hoggler got its Name HERE and HERE. My thanks to Rima, Tom and Terri for the photographs.

18 thoughts on “Figuren Theatre Company

  1. Pingback: Puppet Catch-up: Clive’s Posts | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  2. Such a lovely account of our little show Clive, thank you! And as Charlotte says, great to see it through different eyes 🙂
    It was tremendous to have you both down here… here’s to much more wonderful masquerading and puppeteering in Wales *and* Dartmoor! xx

  3. It was a great show, wasn’t it! And very fine to see you two here – looking forward to next time, with more puppets and more masks, too. Happy new year to you both x

  4. It sounds like it was a wonderful experience and it’s interesting to hear how Jack found it so engaging too!

    I put a copy of the Mabinogion on my wishlist when starting to do some research for the Puppet Challenge and had forgotten I meant to buy a copy, thank you for the reminder!

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