A December reflection from Sam Routledge, Artistic Director
13 December 2021
On first walking into Terrapin’s recent celebratory exhibition at TMAG, surrounded by just some of the extraordinary puppets that have been constructed by our makers over the last 40 years, I was particularly struck by the relationship between two productions. Made over twenty years apart, The BFG (1998) and King Ubu (2020) both reached large audiences for the company; the former through extensive touring in theatres, and the latter through being a work of outdoor spectacle able to reach thousands across only three performances. On display from these productions were the giant puppets at their centre: the Bloodbottler from the BFG and Ma and Pa Ubu from King Ubu. Each puppet stands at an almost identical height of over three metres and has a comic book grotesquery to its face and physicality. These puppets essentially did the same job twenty years apart. So as people walked through the exhibition, greeted at the entrance by the Ubus and then led on to the Bloodbottler, they were reminded of puppetry’s powerful appeal from one generation to the next, transcending the fashions of the day.
Regardless of its timeless appeal, puppetry looks to be on the verge of a golden age similar to what we saw in the 80s. We can expect to see an increase in puppetry in screen content as producers realise the limits of CGI and opt for an authentic physicality, as they have on The Mandalorian and Windmill Pictures’ television series Beep and Mort (premiering on the ABC next year). We’re seeing popular interest in our creations: when ABC’s Art Works profiled Terrapin earlier this year, the promo Instagram reel featuring the Ubus rose to 50,000 watches, 10 times the number of other clips on the account. In Australian theatres puppetry is also trending. Just in Hobart, Erth and Dead Puppet Society feature in the Theatre Royal’s 2022 season (alongside our production Scaredy Cat), with their own unique take on the artform. For Terrapin, Scaredy Cat comes to the Theatre Royal after playing the most high-profile stage in the country, the Sydney Opera House, in January. In addition, we have been distinguished by being the first puppetry company to enter an Australian national performing arts framework since the Marionette Theatre of Australia in the 1960s, pointing to a rich and diverse future for the artform as well as the company.
Embracing the zeitgeist with new explorations and partnerships, next year will see Terrapin take further big steps into our future: three international projects; creative development for four new projects with three new writers under commission and ideas for a work for screen; a schools production focused on paper craft; and a custom-made program for aged care settings. Hoping you can join us (or another!) sometime, somewhere in an experience of this artform that is like no other.
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