Crafting The Tinderbox with Luyanda Ngodlwana

Bristol Old Vic Young Company projects have always involved a rich mixture of talent and inspiration from the cast members to the creative team. One recent addition to this melting pot is the creativity from Luyanda Ngodwana of Handspring Puppet Company (War Horse, A Midsummer Night’s Dream). In February Luyanda was resident here at Bristol Old Vic and worked with The Tinderbox company to create puppets for the production. Before he escaped back to South Africa he told us some highlights from his time here.

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I started as an apprentice puppet builder at Handspring Puppet Company. The first project I worked on was the build for the life sized giraffe puppet for Franco Dragone’s The House of Dancing Water in 2009. After this I worked on puppets for War Horse, the first of these were for the New York and Toronto productions. Under the direction of Thys Stander I sculpted the heads of the horses by stripping the centres out of pieces of cane and manipulating them into place. I have absolutely loved working with Handspring and I would like to say thank you to Adrian Kholer and Basil Jones who have taught me so much. Adrian knows how much I feel deep inside by his work, they are both wonderful and I enjoy working for them so thank for your support!

Being at Bristol Old Vic has been so amazing from day one when I arrived here and Alan Wright came to collect me from the airport. Even though I can’t find suitable words I would like to say thank you for this opportunity and welcoming me to Bristol, it’s been beautiful and wonderful and I appreciate it.

The first day I arrived at Old Vic theatre Lucy Hunt introduced me to the Old Vic staff, I met lots of people and all of the Young Company. I enjoyed watching rehearsals and seeing different projects like Minotaur, Jane Eyre and The Tinderbox. To watch three projects in one building theatre – that’s one of the things that makes me excited. It makes me feel proud to have worked with Bristol Old Vic and I feel like there are a lot of potential opportunities for young artists in Bristol.

The Tinderbox is a fascinating story. I always love the stories that involve animals like the dogs that we see in The Tinderbox; they play an interesting role. During my stay I created the three dog heads for the production and sculpted and painted them. These animals are cleaver and crafty and controlled by evil magic, I wanted to create puppets that showed this and reflected the darkness in their characters.

Most of the characters in this story seem to be interested in money – when the soldier loses his wealth he loses his friends. That’s what happens when the days are dark. There is even a shoemaker who raced off to give The Tinderbox to the soldier because he wanted the money (four shillings!). Greed is a main theme throughout the story; greed for money or possessions or greed for love. The magical Tinderbox is a key symbol of this greed in the story.

There are lots of things that I have learnt from the experience and I will take with me back to South Africa. The way Bristol Old Vic operates and runs as a theatre is inspiring. The different sessions the theatre offers are fantastic. The Old Vic involves so many different groups of people through projects like Young Company and Adult Company, everybody learns so much from these shared experiences. Each and every play I have watched at Bristol Old Vic has inspired me and it makes me feel strong and positive.

To the leaders of the young company I solute you: Lisa, Lucy and Sian you are amazing and I am proud of you. I’m inspired by the work that you do for the Bristol theatre. There are a lot of expressions describing how I feel about being in the theatre. Well done people of Bristol, keep on going and let the sky be the limit!

The Tinderbox is showing at Bristol Old Vic Studio from 23-26 Apr. Tickets and information here.
Photography by Catherine Vaughton and Patrick Graham

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