The World Puppet Festival, held every second year in the French Ardennes city of Charleville-Mézières is a sight to behold. The spectacle has been going on for over 50 years with 'Les Petits Comédiens' filling the historic town for a fantastic event.
The greatest puppet companies in the world come from over 26 countries and offer extraordinary spectacles. From Chile to China, from Spain to Iran, they bring their particular culture and interpretation of their lives and ideas to the festival. Some are inspired by real events like the Algerian war; for others it is pure fantasy.
From the UK come the Blind Summit Theatre with the show The Table, first performed at the Edinburgh International Festival in August this year, and French-based, English group The Green Ginger with Le Drame des Autres. The group conjures up a retirement home for old artistes somewhere in the past-future. Multi-media effects with animated backgrounds, macabre puppets and great music takes place in a frightening, scruffy world. The Home for Performers has problems; the clown has fallen over, or was he pushed? He's hardly alive. It's a puzzling crime and tomorrow is showtime. As you can see from this, Punch and Judy it ain't.
From the U.S., the Bread and Puppet Theater with the French company, the Theatre de l'Arc en Terre, puts on Exultation Manufacture, built around a fresco by Piero della Francesca. Their other performance, Dead Man Rises, takes the idea of a female Good Samaritan though her motives for resuscitating a man are never told. Canada has The Old Trout Puppet workshop which puts on Ignorance.
You can catch the shows with their often life-sized puppets at more than 50 different venues in the town, indoors and outside. Most of the shows are for adults as well as children; some are entertaining, others offer as much as a Shakespeare play in provocation, action and drama. The performers are serious artists; the puppets are works of art in themselves.
And that's not all; there are exhibitions, events and the fabulous treat of street theater throughout the festival that appeals to all ages.
Charleville-Mézières in north France in the Ardennes, is just three hours' drive from either Calais or Boulogne so is easily accessible from the U.K. Check out the Ferry guide. The town is also accessible by TGV train from both Paris Gare de l'Est and the U.K. via Eurostar.
- All information on the festival and its history, plus the tradition of puppetry in the Ardennes is on the Festival website.
- Festival program
More on the Ardennes
Image: World Puppet Festival © Patrick Argirakis