"Experience has shown me that a good performance can alter the life of a person and change something within them."
Jacques Matthiessen, Artistic Director Denmark’s Passepartout Theatre Productions
A Danish take on Shakespeare using Puppetry at SO Festival 2019
SO Festival is an annual cultural arts festival held on the East Coast of Lincolnshire in England. The event’s Danish Artistic Director, Jens Frimann Hansen brings a Nordic and continental direction to the festival that provides a display of outdoor art and entertainment for both community engagement and thought. The British Council spoke to the Artistic Director of Denmark’s Passepartout Theatre Productions (PTP) Jacques Matthiessen, which will perform Shakespeare plays using puppets at this year’s festival.
Can you tell us about the company?
PTP was created in 2007 as a producing theatre with an interest in international, cross cultural theatre performances aimed at children and youth. The first production was a co-production with a theatre in Mali, and the second was with a theatre in Nepal. Both performances were informed by old fairy tales which carried strong moral messages. Each had very few actors and were therefore easy to travel with and be enjoyed by the whole family. One might say that these ingredients make up the DNA of the PTP, which has created more work and collaborated with other companies ever since. We’ve worked with partners in Lebanon, China, Croatia, Sweden, Norway, Turkey, Uruguay, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Nepal and Lithuania.
What’s your mission as the Artistic Director?
The short answer is to tell strong and humanistic stories that have the ability to move audiences and make them think differently about their own lives and the ways of the world. Experience has shown me that a good performance can alter the life of a person and change something within them. These are alterations that one cannot learn at school.
Why choose Shakespeare’s plays to perform for the public?
Firstly, because they a very good stories: they contain universal themes and so everybody can understand them no matter where they are from. But they are equally simple and very deep. One might describe a play by Shakespeare like a rose: one may look at it from afar and know what it is, but closer inspection reveals that there are important complexities, nuances and contrasts. This is no different to human life.
Do you work with professional puppeteers?
I tend to work with professionals trained in the world of theatre. When it comes to puppeteers, I mostly work with actors which have an understanding of action and reaction, but also the importance of space, energy and rhythm. In Denmark we don’t have a specialist education for budding puppeteers, so one has to go abroad to get it. But then again, I have found that trained puppeteers have the tendency to just look or concentrate on the puppet technique at the expense of the story.
What are you performing at SO Festival this year?
We are performing King Lear as a thirty-five minutes nonverbal family puppet performance. The two puppeteers, or actors, are bakers baking a big cake for King Lear. He decides to divide the cake in three parts, for his daughters. But first his daughters must express how much they love him. I think everybody can understand this situation and can see how unwise a father he is and why it all turns out so badly. The performance was originally created as an outdoor performance for the king’s garden at Hamlet’s castle in Helsingor, which will be perfect for the SO Festival. It was produced by HamletScenen in 2014 and played there for two years.
How exactly do you manage to tell stories without words?
By combining the possibilities that the puppets provide, with the theatre technique of mime – stage fight and traditional acting. That means that it is the action, or a reaction, which tells an audience what the puppet wants, and it is through quality of movement that one may express feeling. It is very important to remember that a puppet cannot think or have feelings. Rather, it must be expressed in a movement, action or a physical response. It is also important to note that a puppet can die on stage!
Do you think that an audience in the UK will have a different reaction to an audience in Denmark?
I don’t think that the children’s reaction to Shakespeare’s plays will differ, but those of the adults might. This would likely be due to British audiences having a closer and more critical view of Shakespeare’s stories. Of course, sometimes it is up to an outsider to introduce new ways of seeing to an audience who are slightly set in their ways when it comes to understanding a certain tale.
Why do you think street theatre and entertainment is important?
I think that art in all forms are important for a society: for the way that we as humans live our lives, how we reflect on it and the big and small questions that we encounter.