Bristol and me: Rachel McNally


This week we speak to Rachel McNally, co-producer of the Bristol Festival of Puppetry

At the Bristol Festival of Puppetry we make sure there’s something for families, adults, everybody: international puppet shows; films; workshops to try stop-motion puppetry or learning the basics of how to operate a puppet; a professional programme for young theatre-makers or performers interested in developing their craft; and our carnival on the first Saturday is always colourful fun. People can make their own creature in a workshop beforehand, then we invite everyone to the parade on North Street. 

What is the appeal of puppets? As children we play with dolls, teddies and create stories. When we see an actor perform we’re aware they have a life beyond the performance, but with a puppet that’s their only moment of life and we all invest in it a little more.

We’re encouraging dialogue about puppetry and diverse communities. For example, we have events questioning how people feel talking about disability and how puppetry can be the platform for telling their story.

In parts of the programme we’ll be using British Sign Language and Hijinx, an inclusive theatre company, are staging the brilliant Meet Fred. It explores the life of a puppet who wants to get out in the real world – find a job, meet a girl – but is threatened by losing his Puppetry Living Allowance. It’s funny, sharp and I really recommend it.

If anyone has ever enjoyed special effects in film, a lot are done by animatronics and puppetry – BB-8 in Star Wars films is a puppet, for instance, then there are West End shows like Warhorse.

Besides co-producing the festival, I’m executive producer at Puppet Place. It’s a hub for puppetry and animation, the only one of its kind in the UK, where people can visit or email any puppet-related questions.

We have a wonderful dockside warehouse brimful of people at all stages of their puppetry life, plus workshops and classes for professionals and the general public alike.

Bristol Festival of Puppetry runs from September 1–10.

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