The Grinning Man: Puppetry

Bristol Old Vic

By The Space

Toby Olié and Finn Caldwell - Children’s Touring Partnership's Running WildThe Space

Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié are the co-artistic directors of Gyre & Gimble, a theatre company specialising in puppet-permeated performance.

Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié in Grinning Man rehearsal by Simon AnnandThe Space

They are the Puppetry Designers and Puppetry Directors on Bristol Old Vic’s The Grinning Man.

Toby Olié, Tom Morris and Finn Caldwell in The Grinning Man rehearsals (2016) by Simon AnnandThe Space

They first met Tom Morris, the director of The Grinning Man and Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic, when working on the Tony Award-winning play War Horse, based on Michael Morpurgo’s book of the same name.

Toby Olié in War Horse by Simon AnnandThe Space

Toby puppeteered the hind of the horse Joey, while Finn played the top legs of Topthorn, in the original production. Toby and Finn eventually became the Associate Puppetry Directors on War Horse.

Toby Olié, Tom Morris and Finn Caldwell in The Grinning Man rehearsals (2016) by Simon AnnandThe Space

After the success of War Horse, Toby and Finn collaborated on several more shows, including The Elephantom and Marianne Elliot’s The Light Princess, after which they decided to form their own company, Gyre & Gimble, producing world-class theatre together.

The cast of The Grinning Man in rehearsals by John CraigThe Space

Toby and Finn were brought on board for The Grinning Man back in 2015 when Tom invited them to see a reading of the play at the National Theatre. Early on, Tom had ideas about how the central characters would portray a show within a show, using puppets.

This is where the layers of "bunraku puppetry", which uses three people to manipulate a human figure, first started.

Production still from The Grinning Man by Helen MaybanksThe Space

The Grinning Man uses three puppets: a pet called Mojo and two human-like puppets of Grinpayne and his love interest Dea, which they use on their travels to tell their childhood story.

Puppety Design Sketch for The Grinning Man by Gyre & GimbleThe Space

Long before rehearsals started, Finn and Toby created rough sketches of the puppets using the script and the Designer and Director’s ideas.

Long before rehearsals started, Finn and Toby created rough sketches of the puppets using the script and the Designer and Director’s ideas.

Puppetry Design Sketch for The Grinning Man by Gyre & GimbleThe Space

They then produced prototypes that incorporated the qualities they decided were needed for the narrative – using simple materials like paper and cardboard.

They then produced prototypes that incorporated the qualities they decided were needed for the narrative – using simple materials like paper and cardboard.

Rehearsing The Grinning Man with puppetry prototypes (2016) by Simon AnnandThe Space

Finn and Toby identified the emotional indicators and the technical tasks that they wanted the puppets to be able to do in the show.

Once the prototypes were introduced in rehearsals, they then began a process of bouncing back and forth between the design and the rehearsal room to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Alice Barclay and Stuart Angell operating Mojo in rehearsals by Simon AnnandThe Space

“We, as Gyre and Gimble, feel that there are two types of puppetry; puppetry that is special effects and puppetry that is central to the story. Special effects might be a ghost, or the personification of the sun or stars, children or animals."

"But there’s another aspect of puppetry which we feel is much more exciting. One that, as Shakespeare says, holds the mirror up to life. It reminds us of the miracle of our own existence, of our ability to move, to breathe or to think.”

Audrey Brisson in The Grinning Man rehearsals by John CraigThe Space

“The puppetry of The Grinning Man invites the audience to take part in the story that is being told. They are, in a sense, co-creators who invest in the life of the thing that they are watching."

Sean Kingsley and Louis Maskell in The Grinning Man rehearsals by John CraigThe Space

And the sort of side effect of that is that people tend to care an awful lot about the puppet because they feel somewhat responsible in bringing it to life.

Production still from The Grinning Man by Simon AnnandThe Space

"And it’s the 'life' that we’re interested in when it comes to storytelling.”

Production still from The Grinning Man by Helen MaybanksThe Space

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