A photograph from the 1930s of a musical troupe playing  trumpets, trombones and saxaphones

Heritage & Inspiration

Sue was recently invited to chat with Libby Purves as part of 'Midweek' on Radio 4. Have a listen here.

Sue comes from a long lineage of performers. Her great-grandfather was a music hall entertainer, her grandfather- a concertina player and her grandmother was a musician in a group called The Musical Elliots. Her mother was also a member of this group for a short while, before she met Sue's father, a puppeteer. The video below offers a chance to see Sue's grandparents in action and gives you a taste of her rich theatrical heritage. 

After graduating from university, Sue worked as an actress before realising that she wanted to be a creator of theatre. Nurturing her ability to make puppets and mask, this exciting time connected her with a variety of peer practitioners including Stephen Tiplady; object animator of Indefinite Articles, Rufus Norris; director, Jenny Sealy; Artistic Director of Graeae, Phelim McDermott of Improbable and various visual artists involved with the work of Puppetworks (a large-scale outdoor performance company in the style of Welfare State). In 1989 she received an Arts Council Bursary for the extension of puppetry skills and furthered her training with the Czech Puppet Company Drak and David Glass, and spent 3 months studying the Arts of Southern India. In 1997 she received a distinction for her MA in Contemporary Theatre Practice at Essex University in which she combined a study of psychoanalytical thought with her views on the power of the puppet.

Throughout this period she became a specialist puppetry director and worked with David Farr, Complicite, RSC, The National Theatre and Tara Arts amongst many others.

It was through working as a puppetry specialist with Pop-Up Theatre that she met Penny Bernand.

Read about how Sue's interest in puppetry began: 

My father was a professional puppeteer, who performed a traditional marionette cabaret around holiday camps, hotels and workingmen’s clubs. So my initial training came from that family apprenticeship.

I love the way the puppet art form brings together many approaches ranging from direct performance to construction, visual art and movement. It also has strong heritage across cultures. It can be both truly accessible and highly conceptual with a power beyond language. I had music, making and performing in my blood so puppetry was an ideal art form for me to continue my artistic discovery.

My work is driven from a psychological understanding of our existence. I see the puppet or an imbued object as an opportunity for self-recognition. It offers the chance for the audience to look at an imitation of their own human predicament, whether literally, figuratively or abstractly, enabling them towards self-realization. Placing puppets/objects alongside actors on stage is very powerful. This juxtaposition of the fake with the real helps us see our reality more clearly.

I thoroughly enjoy this when it seems to reach both adults and children, both trying to share the process together.

It is the triadic nature of the art form that particularly interests me. The relationship between the manipulator and their object and the object’s relationship to the audience. I am interested in how much we can find out about the psychology of the actor’s character on stage by how he or she handles or projects their emotions through their props/important objects. It is as though they are representations of the actor’s inner psyche, taking on their alter ego and repressed desires.

I prefer to work with abstracted puppet forms, often enjoying how a group of objects can be brought together to momentarily form a figurative shape, only to re-create itself and re-form its sense of self. I believe that these abstracted, less illustrative forms are more open to the varying projected beliefs of the audience and connect to our celebration of our own abilities of survival and re-invention in the bigger picture of evolution and natural, political and emotional change.

Puppets and object play are also very funny. They are full of nonsense and parody. I adore watching a spirit of play being triggered off in people by the very nature of them being able to hide behind something.

The puppet for me now is ANYTHING that I can manipulate. An object, a projected image, a space or an actor. So the specifics of puppet theatre become less important and yet for me lie at the heart of everything I create.