On the 18th of August I am very lucky to be part of Playwright Studio Scotland’s Talkfest panel, Come the Revolution. The topic for discussion is to what extent plays can mobilise political movement and action. This got me to thinking, how political is Tortoise in a Nutshell? As an entity we’ve now explored the mining industry, the experience of war through the eyes of children and the decline of seaside communities. It sounds like the stuff of a fairly tub thumping company. But we wouldn’t inherently say we are looking to mobilise a movement. We are looking to leave audiences with more questions than answers. We don’t want to brow beat or preach.
But in saying that we obviously have our own leanings and at points ideologies will surely be read in our work. And more inherently we work with puppets, which have a long history of subversion. From the beginnings of travelling Punch shows, disseminating news amongst towns and villages with a heavy hint of satire, to Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi and even my own background as an apprentice at Bread and Puppet’s annual circus. Puppetry has often sought to challenge social norms.
There’s so many theories and thoughts as to why puppets have this dimension to them. Is it their distance from performers allowing them to say the unsayable? Is it the need for an audience to invest heavily into the imagined life of an object, which shakes the audience from a stance of being passively entertained? Is it the idea that by giving an object life we are already subverting the natural laws we understand?
Every fringe there is an article claiming the renaissance of puppetry and citing (the now quite old) War Horse and Lion King as the gleaming commercial examples of this. But this world of commercial puppetry isn’t the world most puppeteers sit in. It’s a subdivision – a small corner of the artistic community filled with weird eccentrics and their toys. A grass roots movement that has its beginnings in ancient civilisations but has never really been part of the establishment voice. It’s a great place to be and Tortoise in a Nutshell love sitting here soaking it all in and hopefully in some little way subverting the world with our own imaginations as well.