I will be performing Love in the Shadows with my little shadow theatre on 28 November 19.30, St Micheal’s Church, Ewell.
It was Pliny who wrote that the art of shadows was first invented by a ‘Corinthian maid’, who drew around the silhouette of her lover cast by an oil lamp onto the wall. He went off to war and she was left gazing at his shadow. But shadow theatre is much older than that. Humans have been creating stories with shadows on cave walls since the beginning of time, making animals and birds, demons and monsters come to life with their hands.
I first became interested in shadow theatre by seeing Balinese shadow theatre – Wayang – where the audience can sit either side of the screen: they can watch the puppets come to life; or see the puppeteer making offerings and prayers to the puppets, then dancing and singing with them against the screen. Storyteller Diane Wolkstein spent time interviewing the dalang – the Balinise puppet masters. Wayang is a ritual and a sacred way of life for the puppeteer, each performance dedicated to the gods. Dalang I Wayan Wija says: “At the end of the play, we ask for forgiveness for any mistakes.”
Through my Greek partner I have come to love Karagiozis – Turkish/Greek shadow theatre, made popular during Ottoman times. Karagiozis is the name of the main character, a lovable rogue, fool and poor man. There are many existing old scripts, including ‘The Magic Tree’ which transforms hapless people into animals and demons. The main puppeteer is also the storyteller, and I saw this story performed by the amazing Athos Danelis and Kyriakos Gouventas when they came to London. Athos has the most incredible vocal range becoming all the characters, each with a different voice and sound. Songs and dances weave through the performance, the audience often joining in.
Recently on a trip to Thessaloniki I saw a wonderful Karagiozis performance by Dimitris Karoglou and his group Skias Onar – which means Shadow Dream. He is doing something both traditional and inventive, taking all the characters and their stock behaviours, and the re-occurring plot elements, and creating new stories. His tales contain all the familiar formulas, but allow the potential for new humour, puppets, locations and dramas. At the end of the performance Dimitris invited the audience behind the screen, it felt very magical to step up onto the stage, and be shown the puppets, see how they moved, and how the shadows were created. He is keeping the tradition alive by reinventing it.
My little shadow theatre is inspired by toy theatres I created when I was child. My theatre is so tiny – I can’t hide behind the screen! Love in the Shadows is influenced by silent movies, Victorian children’s book illustration, and Gothic literature. The puppets don’t tell the stories, but instead suggest emotions and ideas, and I hope, take the audience more deeply into the world of the narrative. Join me for a night of dark tales and tiny shadows.
Love in the Shadows – Sally Pomme Clayton
Friday 28 November 19.30
Three Heads in a Well – Surrey Storytelling Guild
St. Michael’s Church,
Ewell, Surrey KT17 2AS.