Site navigation

The Ideas Store

All contents are Copyright © 2006-2012 John M Blundall and Stephen Foster or is part of The John M Blundall Collection unless stated otherwise.

In the 1960s, in common with European contemporaries, I saw the need to develop a new dynamic in the puppet theatre where experimentation and contemporary ideas would only be interesting and effective if they were based on extensive practise and a thorough understanding of what had been by past generations of puppeteers. Wanted to develop a professional profile, and a respect for the ancient art of the puppet theatre in all of its forms, but break down the traditional structures, barriers and confines, and create a potential model for others.

To do this would require a new approach and the acquisition of a wide range of new practical skills as well as new thinking and analysis backed up by the leadership of an artistic leader with a cultured mind and a selective eye. As there was no available model, experimentation and innovation were fundamental to a new creative strategy to produce a highly professional creative puppet theatre with the puppet as the central means of expression, and a permanent home with the essential facilities that would allow us to build a solid base for a new breed of specialised people. In the past the puppeteer was a jack-of-all-trades, the demands of the new project would require an artistic leader with a vision, a director, designer, writers, studio crafts people, sound and lighting technicians and maybe other specialists such as composers. A vision for this kind of staff was virtually impossible and unheard of in the UK. Each specialist would have perhaps only two transferable skills, for instance, actors who could draw and paint.

The intention was to establish an experimental puppet theatre repertory company providing a consistent repertory of new and innovative work, a theatre based on the professional drama theatre model giving important roles to newly trained specialists. Fully respecting and understanding traditional puppet theatre forms, it was essential to remove the traditional confines and find new performing spaces that would allow for experimentation with new combinations of actor/puppeteers, puppets of all techniques, masks, dance and mime, sound and lighting techniques, and flexible scenery. The company undertook research into the development of special skills and training methods required by actors, writers, technicians, studio craftspeople, costume makers and front of house staff, including signing for deaf audiences, and communication with the blind.

The opportunity presented itself with the development of a unique new project in Birmingham – The Midlands Arts Centre for Young People. During the planning stage of the project its director, John English, expressed a wish to establish the idea that the puppet theatre would play a central role in its development. During the development of the various buildings that included a purpose built puppet theatre called The Cygnet, a number of spaces emerged that would offer a wide range of performance spaces that would inspire the development of new and innovative production techniques, and dynamics that would provide research into the importance of the audience as a collaborator.

In 1968 The Puppet Theatre Company of the Midlands Arts Theatre Company, to be Called Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre gave its first performance. Previous to this I became involved in the whole project from its early beginning to work towards the development of a cultural literacy programme for children and young people. This was based on my experience of the Eastern European Countries, particularly Russia and its Palaces of Culture and The Institutes of Aesthetic Development of Children.

Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre became one of the leading children’s theatres in the UK with a worldwide reputation through its tours and performances in major international festivals. The Company consisted of upwards of sixteen people, this enable us to create large- scale productions and smaller scale works. We always had a schedule of eight performances every week, and frequently sixteen performances by splitting the company into two units. There were frequent tours in the UK to major arts centres and theatres. The theatre never toured to schools.

Most of the productions of the company were responsible for all aspects of puppet theatre production and frequently held open competitions for writers, amongst winners Richard Fawkes, Joyce Cheeseman, Dave Arthur and others. The company also commissioned music from the musical directors of The Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Stephen Hancock and John Wolf.

The Company frequently played host to international puppet theatre and individuals, including The Lanchester Marionettes, Sergei Obraztsov – The Moscow State Central Puppet Theatre, Drak – Czechoslovakia, Marcinek Theatre of Puppets and Actors, Takeda Marionette Theatre – Japan, Albrecht Roser and Gustav –Germany, Bruce Schwartz, Lotte Reiniger, Adam Kilian – Poland, Hisao Suzuki, Noh Theatre, Japan, Panto Philpott, Gerald Morice. Two Punch and Judy Cavalcade’s involving 24 Punch and Judy performers.

The Company also hosted many combined Puppet Guild and British UNIMA events, each one with performances and master classes by taken by specialised members of the Company. There were also numerous puppet exhibitions that were toured in the UK and abroad, including The National Theatre, the Malvern Festival Theatre and others

John Blundall writes about the creation of Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre.

cannon hill

A full list of the plays produced by Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre can be found in John Blundalls biography page Here