Jo Tomalin’s Puppetry recommendations for Edfringe 2023

Puppets create imaginative and visual storytelling. Puppeteers bring inanimate objects to life with a variety of puppetry techniques and styles such as glove puppets, rod puppets, shadow puppets and object puppetry. While puppets are thought of as a children’s entertainment they appeal to adults, too. Here are some recommendations to start you on your journey…

The dramatic theatrical epic story of JM Coetzee’s Life & Times of Michael K is playing at Assembly Hall with life size puppets and actors on stage. Created by the renowned Baxter Theatre Centre from South Africa “in collaboration with Tony Award-winning Handspring Puppet Company (of War Horse and Little Amal fame)” the show is a “multi-layered theatrical staging which combines puppetry, performance, film and evocative music.”

The musical theatre and puppetry show La Petite Gerda is performed by Footsbarn Theatre from France, and tells the story (in English) of Gerda whose quest is to “save her best friend, Kay, from the clutches of the Snow Queen!” Footsbarn Theatre’s version of this classic Hans Christian Anderson tale is told creatively through “their trademark style of masks, puppetry, music and mayhem!” Playing at Assembly George Square Studios.

The very young will be entertained by Sea Dragon for Under 5s playing at Pleasance Courtyard, where several very colourful fabric glove puppets of sea creatures perform a musical theatre show presented by two Dragon Song Productions. The story is about “a magical coral reef that has lost its colour. Kipper the Sea Dragon searches the ocean for help, and engages with four magnificent kelpies, a starfish, a crab, and some cool seahorses.”

Mystery? Head on over to see Casting the Runes (12+), “a chilling new adaptation of MR James’ classic ghost stories.” Playing at Pleasance Courtyard the story is about Edward Dunning “expert on the supernatural” who meets someone who “makes his life a living nightmare.” Told through two characters, puppets and a haunting soundtrack, this theatrical show is presented by renowned Box Tale Soup.

Tino, an orphan from Italy is given a puppet in Il Burattino (16+), in this historical tragedy that begins in 1942. The small puppet, Il Burattino is “a constant source of entertainment for other soldiers, as the boy uses it to boost morale through imitating the king and Mussolini in ways that become increasingly derogatory and slanderous as conditions worsen” playing at theSpace @ Niddry Street.

If shadow puppetry sounds intriguing then Shadow Kingdom (5+) playing at the Assembly Roxy may appeal. It’s a family-friendly fantasy show performed by the Mochinosha Puppet Company from Japan. The story is about “a kingdom where it is always night, the Owl had declared himself king and made sleeping forbidden. Can he be stopped before our undreamt dreams destroy the world?”. The show comprises “almost four hundred hand-cut puppets, original music and silly voices.” 

If you are looking for an entertaining and heartfelt family show told through physical theatre and puppetry see Taiwan Season: The Way Back playing at Summerhall. “Using movement, text, light, sound and puppetry with great ingenuity, The Double Theatre’s family show is a creative and playful theatrical response to the state of the world” The ensemble of performers tell the story visually with sound and song about “a displaced boy trying to become whole again, escaping the battlefield sustained by a dream of music.”

The live sing-a-long Monski Mouse’s Baby Cabaret is for the very young, featuring a “cabaret of nursery classics, song, puppetry and bonkers fun for 0-5s and their parents.” Playing at Assembly George Square Gardens, the show is presented by Monski Mouse Media from Australia involving interactivity and “elephants, fish, wiggly worms, transport and the existential ways of the toddler.”

For those who enjoy horror stories with their puppetry, Lachlan Werner – Voices of Evil (14+) blends ventriloquism. comedy and clown. Werner’s character Lachy, performs with his puppet Brew “a small, squishy witch” who is keen on sacrifice, playing at Pleasance Courtyard.

Jo Tomalin is FringeReview’s dance and physical theatre reviewer at the Edinburgh Fringe and also reviews elsewhere in the world.