Feature: Bringing Frankenstein’s monster to life through puppetry

“The image of Frankenstein’s monster from the movies is so iconic that everyone just assumes this is what you are going to do. However, in a way it made it easier to go away from that; there were just so many other possibilities.  I was given completely free reign with the creature.”

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is an iconic story that has been brought to life many times across print, TV and film and now this gothic story graces the stage once again with a UK tour by Blackeyed Theatre. It’s adapted for the stage by John Ginman, who previously penned Blackeyed Theatre’s  2012/13 production of Dracula, directed by Eliot Giuralarocca, and sees Ellie Verkerk  again as Musical Director. This production also see’s The Monster created by talented puppet designer Yvonne Stone. Stone studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama, and her theatre credits include Terry Pratchett’s Nation, Warhorse and His Dark Materials, all for the National Theatre, as well as The Gruffalo for Tall Stories, In the Night Garden – Live show and other TV and film projects.

We spoke to Stone to find out more about how she brings her magical creations to life, and what it takes to become a puppet maker.

“I love being involved in a show from the early creation stages,” says Stone. “It was a pleasure to be included so early on with Frankenstein.  It means that the needs of the puppet can be properly considered and its design can become an integral part of the whole production.”

This production is made up of a cast of five performers and after rave reviews from its 2016 run it is selling out fast this year.

Stone says that she’s always loved making things.

“As a child I was inspired by the fabulous inventiveness of Jim Henson in productions such as Labyrinth, but it was when I first saw Julie Taymor’s inspired creations in The Lion King that I really became excited by the creative possibilities of the medium,” she says.

Puppetry is a very specific art form and requires a great deal of time and a unique skill set and vision to be able to create and bring these works of art to life. You need to not only be able to design and create the puppet but also to bring the puppet to life physically through its movements and characteristics.

“At the start of each new project there are several things that always need to be considered,” says Stone. “If there is a script, I start by reading that. I then question the director, producer or designer as to what they hope to achieve by using a puppet.  Are there any key movements or pictures they are hoping to create?  How many performers will they have available to operate it?  What is the aesthetic of the piece and how does the puppet fit in to this?  I try to look at the requirements of each show afresh.”

With a touring production such as this, there are extra checks needed in place to make sure the puppets are able to travel and are also easy to maintain and fix if need be.

“Touring does add an extra dimension to the creation of a puppet.  For a start it has to travel from venue to venue without becoming damaged so the practicalities of this have to be considered.  I think the most demanding thing about a tour however is the maintenance involved in maintaining a puppet,” says Stone.

Stone has also lent her puppetry skills to TV and film productions and goes on to describe the difference in creating puppetry for theatre and for screen. “Puppets for TV and film often require a very different aesthetic to those in theatre so that can mean a different set of making skills,” she says. Like performers, Stone has to be multifaceted and by being so she has managed to have such a diverse career.

“One of the main differences between TV/film and theatre is in the performance,” she says. “In theatre now, it is the norm for the puppeteers to be seen, but in film and TV this is not the case. The design of the puppet has to take this in to account and often calls for much more complex mechanisms to solve this problem.”

It’s hard not to get attached to creations when so much time and expertise is invested into making them come alive. Does Stone understand some of what Dr Frankenstein feels when he first brings his monster to life? She certainly hopes her version of Frankenstein’s Monster is one that will kindle a layered response from audiences.

“Hopefully they will see a living breathing creature that commands its place on the stage just as much as any of the actors,” she says. “Puppetry is a very demanding skill and I am so proud of everything our performers have achieved. I really wanted to create something that the audience members could have empathy for. It’s very easy to see the monstrous in the character of the creature but I wanted them to be able to see both sides of the story. After all, he didn’t ask to be made.”

Frankenstein tours until March 25