28 November 2019
Oliver Hymans, Puppet Maker for The Snow Queen, discusses the process of bringing Bancu to life on stage.
Puppetry holds a unique power. The moment we encounter a puppet on stage or in film, we are simultaneously aware of its simplicity as an object being manipulated by puppeteers, whilst also experiencing an empathy for something which has life, can think and react. We know the puppet is not ‘real’, but we also watch in fascination knowing that at any moment the puppet could cease to exist if the puppeteers stop what they are doing.
I have been designing and directing puppetry for nearly 10 years and I am always excited when I am approached by a director or producer who want me to make a puppet for them. Every project is different, and so every puppet brings new challenges and possibilities. The requirements of any production will be different from the last and what the director wants or needs the puppet to do is specific to each show.
When I first met Ciaran McConville (Writer & Director) and David Farley (Set Designer) to discuss the creation of Bancu for The Snow Queen, I must admit there was a quite an alarming list of requirements which you would not expect even a real-life reindeer to be able to do. This puppet needed to speak with a moving mouth, be self-supporting, made to look like a wooden toy, be ridden, fly and… well, without giving too much away, I knew it was going to be a challenge to meet all the demands of the script. What I did know was that Bancu needed to have a charm that would win over our audiences.
The first consideration of any puppet design is how many puppeteers you are working with. How many pairs of hands will decide what is achievable. With three puppeteers bringing Bancu to life, we are able to have all the legs move independently as well as an articulated neck and moving mouth.
The next part of the design process was creating a prototype puppet that the company could work with during the main part of the rehearsal period. This was created using a mix of cardboard, wood, a few bits of foam here and there and lots of bungee cord. It is an important stage in the puppet making process to get this part right before creating the final design. There’s no use having a puppet which looks great but doesn’t move in the way you need it to. We also strapped several bottles of water to this prototype to ensure our puppeteers got used to working with a heavier Bancu. Using feedback from Yvonne Stone, our Puppet Director, we were able to move forward and make the Bancu you see on the stage today.
In keeping with the fact that Bancu is a wooden toy reindeer that has magically come to life, and with the tradition of Scandinavian design, I have to tried to use as much wood as possible. There is also an economy of materials since the puppet also needs to be as light as possible to allow the greatest amount of movement and expression.
For me, one of the most important parts of a puppet is the eyes. I generally avoid using marked pupils in the eyes as this tends to give a staring vacant expression, so on Bancu I have used big, black eyes with a glossy finish. The intention is to give audiences an insight into the mind of this lovable puppet.
I would like to thank Marcus Crofton for all the help with the carpentry and Cat Cullen for creating Bancu’s stunning harness.
The Snow Queen runs from Fri 6 Dec 2019 to Sun 5 Jan 2020. For more info and to book, click here.
Oliver Hymans: @buddyollie / www.oliverjameshymans.com
Images: Ewa Ferdynus