With no strings attached

Japanese techniques bring new life to a one-man puppet show of Pinocchio
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The Independent Culture

In his one-man puppet show Pinocchio, Steve Tiplady plays the character of Geppetto, the toy-maker, as well as operating the table-top puppets. Tiplady, who has been the Little Angel Theatre's artistic director since January, has performed the show around the world for 10 years, with his puppetry-based company, Indefinite Articles.

"I've done Pinocchio over 500 times since my first show," says Tiplady, a puppeteer for 15 years. One of his first-ever puppeteer jobs was on a production of The Three Billy Goats Gruff at the Puppet Barge, based in Little Venice, north London. Since then, his company has performed the adult puppet show Dust, a retelling of the Odyssey, last seen at the Lyric Hammersmith in January. He also toured an adult puppet version of Hamlet, performed entirely on his own body. "But each time I perform Pinocchio, it's always very different. I take my cue from the audience."

This is the first time, however, that Tiplady will perform Pinocchio at the Little Angel Theatre featuring new and improved puppets, all hand-carved by the top puppet-maker Peter O'Rourke. "When I started out, I made my own Pinocchio out of papier mâché and an electrical conduit," recalls Tiplady. "Now, I have well-made puppets with gorgeous unseen mechanisms. They have good head movements, too. Whereas before, I changed the angle of the puppet with a rod to the head - and you could see my hand - now I have a rod to the back."

People's perception of puppetry is always Punch & Judy, says Tiplady. "But the table-top puppetry that I do is taken from an old Japanese form called Bunraku, in which you do see the puppet operators. It gives me more flexibility."

Tiplady was originally an actor - he learnt puppeteering "as he went along", and it became a passion. "I found acting soul-destroying - there is little creative input allowed. But puppetry offered me total creative freedom. I could do everything myself - act, make the puppets, direct, produce and perform. I'm a total control freak really," he says. "But it is much more satisfying."

Tiplady has stayed true to the original story of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, about the young puppet that longs to be a real boy. The script for his show, written by Louise Warren, who also wrote Little Angel's hit show Jabberwocky, does, however, take familiar scenes from the Disney film. "Sad as it is, people's perception of Pinocchio is the Disney film, not the original book." In the original, Pinocchio's nose does not grow, and Jiminy Cricket is dead within the first minute. "He is killed by Pinocchio and comes back as a ghost. But in the Disney film, he survives to the end, and sings lots of sentimental songs," says Tiplady. In his show, Jiminy Cricket is played by a clothes peg. "But so that the audience can associate the character with Disney's Cricket, we do play the first chords of 'When You Wish Upon a Star'..."

'Pinocchio', Little Angel Theatre, London N1 (020-7226 1787), Saturdays and Sundays 11am and 2pm, 14 August-19 September