A day when I saw a puppet show in my hotel drawing room – my first amazed awakening to the fact of theatre.
Photo by Simon Annand
On holiday in Greece in 1974, I saw a shadow theatre play one night in the open air and was taken backstage to watch from behind. It was my first visit to Greece and a last-minute package tour got me to a little village called Kamena Vourla, with a single mini-highrise hotel by the beach. It was by chance I walked into the village one night and noticed a show beginning. I sat on a bench under a small pergola facing a rough stone-built ‘shed’, which housed a shadow screen, maybe four feet wide. The puppets were almost Javanese in appearance and the story that of a battle between the Turks and Greeks. I remember the Greek hero being killed and a laurel wreath floating down from the sky to rest on his head and all the while a rasping voice through a microphone, out-Heroding Herod, played the entire cast of characters and provided the narration.
|Karagiozis, the main protagonist|
of Greek shadow theatre
* * *Lotte Reiniger’s Prince Achmed (the first animated feature film) had captivated me when I saw the film in a cinema in London. There is a moment when the young prince sees some winged water nymphs descend to bathe in a little lake and he hides to watch them, pulling a palm branch down, in profile, to conceal himself. Lotte had a ‘trick table’ on which all the scenes and puppets were arranged, tiny move by tiny move, to build up the action, each part of the whole film’s sequence was photographed, tiny action by action, by her husband Karl on a camera fixed above the table. As Achmed watches, I remember, there is a close-up of him and his lips part in wonder at the nymphs’ beauty. It struck me as a perfect, human piece of acting, such a simple, elemental gesture.