Out The Box Puppet Festival 2011 – overview and Winners

Posted: September 12, 2011 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews

Out the Box – overview and review:

Flying dogs, clowns, mermaids, a bright pink sausage with an environmental message, witches, whales, a wildebeest, and an Eskimo dreaming of being a shaman have all invaded Cape Town.

This year’s Out the Box festival has more than 50 productions on offer from 16 different countries. Given that the festival only runs for 9 days, and the enormous variety of puppet shows, workshops and films, it is really tricky to select shows.



The festival is all about visual performance; puppetry, video, art, clowning, and experimental theatre. The local and international performers use virtually anything; their bodies, shadows reflected against a screen, images created from sand, music, multi-media displays, stop frame photography and crafty pupeteering; to tell their stories. Many of the performances cater specifically for very young children and it is a rare treat for Cape Town kids to meet puppets from exotic locations such as Chile which presents the endearing La Plaza. It is a trilogy of short plays featuring very clever puppet manipulation of a little dog with big dreams. Under the skilled hands of the puppeteer, the little mongrel bursts to life and goes on crazy, feel-good adventures. The kids, and us adults, adored him and the other beautifully crafted puppets that shares the stage with him.

Many of the children’s’ plays are environmentally themed.  The Jungle Theatre Company’s Whale Show is one example. In this play, which features a deftly crafted whale puppet, a group of whale watchers dream of becoming whales, and in the process they discover the ocean is under threat. They go on a comic and moving journey of discovery in which they try to protect the water giants.

Watching the different shows, no matter which medium is used, becomes a journey filled with magic, fables, mysteries and revelations.  Using clowning or puppets to convey a message of hope or to portray a struggle for identity and acceptance is a powerful and effective medium.

Another children and family orientated production worth a visit is The Mermaid from Zanzibar; which is the story of an independent African mermaid and her fight for freedom. The Ogreling is an award-winning shadow puppetry play. Just a Bit of Paper from the UK is an interactive show about, and featuring, paper. The Cape Winelands area is also represented by Adolf en Sy Papier Poppe which is a story about a street worker battling against a germ thug called Kiem Skollie.

There are a number of deliciously dark adult productions for those who wish to dig into the shadowy side of the human psyche.  If you have not seen Kardiãvale yet, you have missed out on a fine piece of sexy and macabre theatre presented by the group FTH:K and Conspiracy of Clowns. However, you can still catch their play, Benchmarks, which received great reviews at the Grahamstown Festival, at Out the Box on Thursday and Friday.

The bloody tale of The Butcher Brothers features a retired ballroom dancer and his loyal servant in a masked show full of, ‘meat and meetings, rump and rambunctious play, laughter and slaughter’.

Madame TouxFlouwe is a B-grade schlock horror meets theatre with a very odd comedic twist. The play uses puppetry, projection, special effects and buckets of fake blood to create a visual adventure of comedic horror where creatures appear from inside walls, corpses come to life.

Punch & Judy in Afghanistan is played behind, and in front of, a sort of traditional puppet theatre booth. It combines traditional elements of Punch & Judy with sharp satire.



Jori Snel’s award-winning Inua has a number of mind-blowing magical shadow theatre sketches well-worth a watch. However the play’s numerous dance sequences felt a bit overly long.

There are simply too many productions to mention here. The best plan of action is to grab the brochure, or to hop onto the website, and read up on the various performances. If you are curious but have limited time, then a visit on Saturday night to Iqonga is strongly recommended. It is a smorgasbord of seven new short-form puppetry plays by established and emerging theatre makers and it is usually a visual and cerebral feast.


The winners of the second Handspring Puppetry Awards were announced at the closing ceremony of the 2011 Out the Box Festival of Puppetry and Visual Theatre, held on Sunday 11 September at the Little Theatre on UCT’s Hiddingh Campus.

*The Best Puppet Production:

(This is the only category for which visiting, non-African performers or companies are eligible.)

Nominees: Anubis (Germany), Punch & Judy in Afghanistan (Netherlands), Sadako (South Africa)

Winner: Sadako (Family Festival) presented by the Hearts and Eyes Theatre Collective combines video projection, puppets and live actors to tell the story of Sadako Sasaki and the legend of one thousand paper cranes.

*The Best Visual Theatre Production:

Nominees: Benchmarks, Door, Inua

Winner: Inua (Adult Festival) presented by Jori Snell and the Baba Yaga Theatre is a search for the essence (the inua) of things spiritual, emotional, physical.

*The Best Puppet Design:

Nominees: Cristina Salvoldi for Benchmarks, Hillette Stapelberg and Illka Louw for Isangqa/Sirkelpad, Gavin Younge for After Cardenio

Winner: Gavin Younge for After Cardenio (Adult Festival), written and directed by Jane Taylor in collaboration with Gavin Younge, Aja Marneweck and Paper Body Collective, is an imagined reworking of the historically archived “missing” play, Cardenio, one of the last pieces Shakespeare wrote.

*The Best Puppet Manipulation

Nominees: Benchmarks, Massacre de Mueda, Sadako

Winner: Benchmarks (Adult Festival) presented by FTH:K is about three desperate and lonely individuals who get drawn into an unlikely relationship that will lead them on a journey of discovery, companionship, tragedy, and reconciliation.

*The Best Puppet Debut:

Nominees: Adolf en Sy Papier Poppe, Inja Ka Vuyo, Isangqa/Sirkelpad

Winner: Inja ka Vuyo (Family Festival), presented by Isibane in association with UNIMA SA, is performed in isiXhosa and tells the story of a small boy with big dreams.

Special Mentions were made of the following productions:

* Excellence in Theatre for Children

Mentions: Bye Moon by Pantalone Theatre, Just a Bit of Paper by Libellule Theatre

* Excellence in Puppet Manipulation

Mention: The Strings of Music by Antamapantahou (Greece)

* Excellence in creating inspirational Eco-theatre

Mention: Planet B by Wellworn Theatre Company, Fresco, Dark Laugh

* Excellence in Physical theatre and Clowning

Mentions: Hats by Boschwhacked Productions, Vecinas by La Caravana

* General Excellence

Mentions: Elev(i)ate2 by Athena Mazarakis, Madame Touxflouwe by The Space Behind the Couch, Migritude by Mwenya Kabwe, The Ogreling by FreeVoice Productions


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