Forest Fringe Profiles: Pangolin’s Teatime

[Team Pangolin’s Teatime hard at work, photo courtesy of Alex Hall]

God bless the change of plan. Few things generally tend to work out for the best with such brilliant regularity.

This New Year for example at about half one in the morning I could be found (but fortunately wasn’t) drunkenly gasping for breath propped up against the wall of a toilet cubicle in an overcrowded former town hall somewhere in South London. It was hot. I was suffering. My Jacques Cousteau costume was reduced to nothing but a pair of orange swimming goggles. Things were not looking good.

Then, like some kind of over-excited guardian angel poorly disguising their spectacular drunkeness, I bumped into a friend of mine in a hallway, who mumbled something about Finsbury Park – we were off, busses and trains blurred by in a breathless trail of free public transport (they make it free at New Year – this single thing probably made me love London more than anything that had happened in the past year and a half I had lived there) and suddenly I was at a house full of strangers in a part of the city I knew only because spelt backwards it sounded like Crappy Rub-Sniff. It was the best.

A change of plan bless the change of plan. And so it has proved once again.

First of all the bad part though. Unfortunately Nick Young, who’s company Crack Theatre, were supposed to be performing Controls at Forest Fringe has had to pull out for personal reasons. It’s a real shame as it was one of the shows I was really looking forward to seeing (and one of the companies I had no experience of before they got in touch) but we wish Nick all the best and I’m sure he’ll be back next year with something new.

And so with but a couple of weeks left before the festival started we suddenly had a tiny puncture in the programme and it was at that moment that I thought of Pangolin’s Teatime.

Pangolin’s Teatime are an Edinburgh based puppet company who, like me, came up through the Bedlam Theatre – Edinburgh’s student run theatre, which stands all red and churchy and grand looking, directly opposite Forest Fringe.

The company was started by Jeremy Bidgood – an Edinburgh college of art student who I’ve known for about four years. He actually appeared in one of my first ever shows – an almost (almost) endearingly earnest version of Howard Barker’s completely brilliant play Victory. For the show Jeremy created a magnificent severed head, all black and decaying and oozing unpleasant things from every tattered wound. Since then Jeremy has continued to experiment with models and puppets (directing amongst other things a version of Equus for which he created all the horse masks) to the point where he decided to start a company dedicated entirely to the process.

However, one of the delightful things about the company is that far from being a one-man show, every step of their process is wonderfully collaborative – with practical puppet-making workshops bleeding into improvisations and games and collaborative attempts at story telling to create an entirely fluid process of creation in which everyone’s skills are shared and a truly charming sense of fun can be felt.

Their first show Haozlka was a big hit at the festival last year and went on to win several awards at the national student drama festival.

The most interesting thing about the show was, for me, undoubtedly the puppets themselves. The company already seemed to be developing a quite personal aesthetic; creating a number of different styles of puppet that all complemented each other beautifully and were irresistably lovely to watch. It was a show with a lot of promise and so I was already looking forward to see what they came up with this year for their new show The Last Yak. Mainly I think I was possibly looking forward to much use of the word Yak. Yak.

And then came the very sad call from Nick one day whilst walking in the rain along Kingsland Road and suddenly our programme had a hole.

After deciding between us that we were happy to invite Pangolin’s to come and do something at Forest I got in touch with them and they were delighted to be involved, initially suggesting that maybe they could do a workshop followed the next day by a little show. By this point however the mechanics somewhere in the back of my head had started whirring and another idea had popped into existence.

We came up with the plan of giving the company at the start of August a series of challenges – provocations for a new show, things like ‘no talking’, ‘you’re only allowed two puppeteers’, ‘you must incorporate this story’ etc. The idea being that they had to try and make a show within these fairly proscriptive constraints with only the puppets they already had at their disposal from the other two shows.

I liked the idea of this – of using only what you have to try and find some way of telling this new story. I liked this scrappy little challenge. I liked the way I hoped it would make the company think. I remember being at a fascinating seminar on devising where one guy was explaining the use of what he called ‘wild cards’ in problem solving; the idea being that one of the best ways to actually solve a problem is to throw in more problems (or at least more factors) as it opens up different areas of your brain that you weren’t using before and so you start thinking more broadly, more strangely. I liked this. I wanted the company to think strangely.

And brilliantly the Pangolin’s team were equally intruiged by the idea, so we’ll get a chance to see how it works out. Once I’ve decided what the rules are I’ll post them up here for all to see. Then come along on the 15th and 16th and see what they manage to come up with. Alongside this Jeremy will also be leading a free bonus workshop on how to work with puppets after the performance – so it’s all good!

Pangolin’s Teatime vs. Forest Fringe is on 15th & 16th August at the slightly later than scheduled time of 5.30pm. The Last Yak is at Pleasance Dome at 3.40pm (almost) every day.

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