CROWDS FLOCK TO FIRST TUNBRIDGE WELLS PUPPETRY FESTIVAL
It’s not every day you get to see a life size horse puppet parading through the streets of Tunbridge Wells but that’s exactly what happened on Saturday when the town came to a complete standstill to welcome the star of the National Theatre’s internationally renowned production of War Horse.
The famous ‘Joey’ from War Horse had travelled from his New London Theatre home to open Kent’s first Puppetry Festival at 10am and as the weather held out, crowds lined the streets to get a glimpse of the stunning puppet horse and the amazing trio of puppeteers who bring him to life.
After the opening ceremony by Tunbridge Wells Deputy Mayor and Town Crier, puppets-a-plenty joined Joey for a jam-packed day full of puppetry discovery where all ages came together to enjoy the work of celebrated artists from across the UK and Europe. With more than 30 shows, numerous walkabout acts, workshops, exhibitions and puppet encounters, the first Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival was hailed a roaring success with close to 1,000 people turning up to join in the fun.
Visitors soaked up the atmosphere and free entertainment on The Pantiles including Robert Styles traditional Punch & Judy and the quirky Unexpected Places with their rather unusual recycled bicycle. Swank’s larger-than-life Jolly Holiday and puppet ‘Nana’ drew crowds and smiles and children queued to tend to their very own fruit or veggie baby, complete with eyes, dummy and nappy, courtesy of Plunge Boom’s The Allotment and the vegetable nannies.
In theatres, schools and other venues across the town, visitors enjoyed quirky shows from Matthew Robins and the award-winning Blind Summit who, fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe, performed their acclaimed production of The Table. Fantastic family friendly shows included FenBoy at Trinity Theatre, Oddly, the Norwich Puppet Theatre’s adaption of the much-loved children’s book by Joyce Dunbar and Pop-Up Flashback from the award-winning poet Joseph Coelho, complete with puppetry workshop where children got to create giant character headboards.
Some of the tiniest puppets of the day drew big crowds at Tunbridge Wells Museum in a spellbinding commission celebrating the life and work of local artists Jasper Sprange and George Smart who lived in the late Georgian period. At Trinity Theatre a packed audience met Mervyn Millar, War Horse Puppetry Designer and Director, who talked about his involvement in the making of the horse puppets in the global smash hit that went from risky one-off to global phenomenon, the bold experiments in puppetry to develop the horse puppets and the training of the puppeteers.
Festival organiser and Tunbridge Wells resident Linda Lewis commented, “We have received such tremendous support for our first festival and are truly thrilled with the outcome. It was wonderful to see so many people come along to see Joey and to spend the day enjoying puppetry performances of all shapes and sizes. It can take a fair bit of time to plan all of the good shows we want to include and to raise the necessary sponsorship funds so it is our aim to make the festival a biennial event for the region with the next one planned for Autumn 2017.
The festival was supported by the Arts Council, Heritage Lottery Fund, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, Tunbridge Wells Museum and Gallery, Kent County Council and local sponsors including Tunbridge Wells Hotel, Tunbridge Wells Kids on the Go, Juliets, Gardner and Cook, Sandrine’s Pilates, C and H Fabrics, Saltmarsh, Woods and The Pantiles.