It's been a long time since puppet shows were solely the preserve of children's entertainment; these days they can be a very serious business indeed. Just ask Liz Walker, co-founder of Faulty Optic. For 20 years, she and partner Gavin Glover have explored the art form's nightmarish limits, with surreal dramas about puppets in crisis that have been likened to the works of David Lynch and Samuel Beckett.
Walker began her string-pulling career at Islington's Little Angel Theatre in the 1980s. It was there that she met Glover and, in 1987, they set up Faulty Optic to pursue more experimental storytelling. Using 3D animation and electronic soundscapes, their wordless productions have included Soiled, a love story featuring a boxing ballerina and a sparrow with Tourette's; and Dead Wedding, a macabre reinvention of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth.
Fish Clay Perspex, Walker's first solo production, premières here at this month's London International Mime Festival, now in its 32nd year. And she's going back to basics. "Video in theatre has become overused, and often doesn't add a lot," she says. "I wanted to see if I could return to simple puppets and scenarios and still draw the audience into a different world."
Fish Clay Perspex is described as a series of character studies based on "chance, expectation, futility and denial". Tough themes to tackle when you're made of wood, plastic or clay, but Walker says her "actors" are more than up to the task: "I can believe in a puppet more than a [human] actor. I'm always aware that actors are playing a part, whereas puppets have an intrinsic honesty as they can't do anything but be what they are."
'Fish Clay Perspex', Friday to 24 January, Shunt Vaults, London SE1. For details: www.mimefest.co.uk