Reuniting with our Grinning Man Director Tom Morris are the incredibly talented puppeteers of War Horse, Gyre & Gimble. As the cast continue in rehearsals we grabbed a few minutes with Alice Barclay, a member of the company manning their creations.
As one of the puppeteers within the show (and without giving too much away) tell us a little about how you fit into the world of The Grinning Man?
The family that Grinpayne (The Grinning Man) has been brought up in includes a wolf called Mojo who accompanies them almost everywhere. The wolf, who’s an important part of the story for lots of reasons, is a puppet operated by two puppeteers and I’m one of them. Mojo has a journey through the play and connects with everyone else on the stage like any other character, whilst having the instincts and sensitivity of the animal that he is.
Tell us a little bit about Gyre and Gimble and what it’s been like working with their puppetry.
Toby and Finn, who set up and run Gyre & Gimble, are true explorers of the extent to which puppets can exist on stage. They are always interested in making puppets central to a story and doing things that haven’t been done before. They have a set of simple but very powerful puppetry principles that keep a puppet ‘alive’ and allow the audience’s imagination to be free to connect with it and see a puppet’s thoughts. As such our attention is very much on the breath of the puppet and what that can communicate, its eye line or focus, its weight and the economy of truthful movement. More than anything else they believe in believing and as a constant companion to any technique is the puppeteer’s absolute investment in the life of the puppet. They’re also brilliant fun to be around and we play a lot with brown paper!
As a local to Bristol, what do you think makes The Grinning Man so suited to our stage?
The play uses lots of different devices to tell its story and they’re all brilliantly suited to the beautiful theatre space here. The acoustic in the theatre is wonderful so the live music will exist very happily in there I think. There’s an intimacy about the space at the Bristol Old Vic that allows for storytelling that’s very small scale, as well as the possibility of using the huge extent of the stage for something more epic. We’re going to be playing with shifts of scale and different frames for the story to be told in. The audience in Bristol Old Vic feel very close to the action and in The Grinning Man they are very much part of it with characters directly talking to them and involving them in the story. And it’s all set in Bristol… it’s definitely a play made for this theatre!
What is your favourite aspect of this production?
I love the way the story hits you in the guts and connects with you on a very basic human level. It’s political and personal, it’s about laughter and pain, and it’s very very funny and extraordinarily moving. It’s about what theatre’s about and how important it is to everyone on the planet. It’s a story that must be told… I can’t wait to share it with the audience.
You’ve worked with Tom Morris in the past on Swallows and Amazons and at our recent 250th Anniversary Gala. What excites you about working with him again on this show?
Tom’s incredible to work with for so many reasons and it’s very easy to trust him and feel safe in the rehearsal room. He believes in everything that’s important… telling stories, finding a sense of play to tell them and the immense power of the ensemble. We’re always telling the story together on stage and we’re always connected with each other, whatever we’re doing at any particular moment.