On Radical Puppetry

There has been a bit of a kerfuffle in the world of puppetry, where radical puppeteer Corky De’Ath has performed a volte face. A press release from the Corky De’Ath Puppet Theatre has created a hoo-hah:

For the past forty years, we have been at the cutting edge of contemporary puppetry, creating a counter narrative to the dominant ideology, interrogating the contradictions of capitalism, and speaking truth to power. Puppet shows such as What Can We Learn From The Uxbridge By-Election?, Smash! Smash! Smash The Social Contract!, and Che Guevara May Have Been A Murderous Psychopath, But He’s Cool, Innit were instrumental in undermining puppetry’s status as a reactionary plaything of the elite. Over the decades, dozens of people, not all of them students, watched our puppet shows with goggle-eyed fascination. It has been said of the beat combo The Velvet Underground that only a few people bought their first album upon its release, but all of those people went on to form beat combos of their own. The same is true of our puppet shows. We have changed the landscape.

However, I wish it to be known that I have now finished my interrogation of capitalism, asking all the questions I needed to ask to wring some sense out of it. Having studied the answers, I have decided that it is the best possible system yet devised to order our affairs. The alternatives are either totalitarian horror or naïve, woolly-minded tree-hugging fatuity. In future, therefore, the repertoire of the Corky De’Ath Puppet Theatre will be devoted to new works of a more traditionalist flavour, but with a contemporary resonance, starting with Punch And Judy And Allah And George Galloway. Audiences will cheer to the rafters as a gang of Islamist puppets stone a George Galloway puppet to death for adultery, using real stones.

As we might expect, the consternation in the radical puppeteering community is profound. Hot-headed young student puppeteers have already set up an encampment of tents around the Corky De’Ath Puppet Theatre, blocking access to the pier at the godforsaken rain- and windswept seaside resort where it is based. Corky himself has had to go into hiding, having received puppet-string-cutting threats from radical puppeteers armed with knives and scissors. The puppet twittersphere is in uproar, particularly from those more skilled puppeteers who can manipulate their puppets with sufficient skill to type messages on a keyboard. This is actually more difficult than a non-puppeteer might think. Even the most sensitive keyboard requires a certain amount of pressure in order for the keys to be depressed, and a series of workshops has been set up to teach puppet-typing skills. Adding small lead weights to the fingers of puppets is often all that is needed to do the trick. The practice of typing with finger puppets, however, has been condemned by purist radical puppeteers.

But Corky De’Ath, in his hidey-hole beneath the pier, seems unbowed. He is hard at work making a new set of so-called “neocon puppets” for use in future puppet extravaganzas. But he also intends to branch out from his political shows, and has some intriguing projects in development.

“Ever since I was a little tot,” he told our reporter, “and barely able to grasp the strings of my puppets, I have wanted to present The Wreck Of The Deutschland by Gerard Manley Hopkins, interpreted through the medium of puppetry. I have already made a puppet of the Tall Nun, now I just need to make the other four nuns, some of the ship’s crew, and a puppet of Adalbert Falk, the Prussian education minister who enacted the anti-Catholic laws which led to the nuns fleeing Prussia in 1875, hoping to find refuge in the Franciscan convent in Wheaton, Illinois, but drowning when the SS Deutschland was wrecked on the Kentish Knock off the Thames Estuary, and ending up buried in St Patrick’s Cemetery in Leytonstone, east London, where I often visit the grave to leave flowers. Well, when I say I leave flowers, I should say that I manipulate one of my puppets to place the flowers on the grave. This takes a good deal of puppeteering skill, not so much as puppet-typing, but you have to make sure the puppet grasps hold of the bouquet tight and doesn’t drop it on the cemetery path before you actually reach the tomb of the nuns, otherwise your visit of homage is in vain. I can’t count the number of cack-handed puppeteers I have seen whose puppets drop their flowers on the path, or on the pavement before they even get to the cemetery. In some ways I feel responsible, because for years and years my radical puppetry, espousing all sorts of lost or wrong-headed causes, must have had a baleful influence on these tyro puppeteers, and addled their brains if not their puppet-manipulating fingers. Once I have got the stoning of George Galloway out of the way, I want to concentrate on my Hopkins adaptation as a way of making some kind of amends for my past. After that, I want to work on a puppet version of Six Crises by Richard Milhous Nixon, presenting the ex-President sympathetically instead of as the bogeyman figure of my 1970s puppet show about him, Watergate – With Puppets! It was a resounding success, of which I am now ashamed.”

Our reporter’s interview with Corky De’Ath was interrupted at this point, when a huge wave came crashing in under the pier, sweeping him and his puppets out to sea, where they were last seen drifting helplessly towards the Kentish Knock, and the terrible horror of the briny deep.

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