5 Minutes with Keith Frederick | WOW! It’s Night-time

We spoke to puppet designer Keith Frederick about how he brought Tim Hopgood’s magical illustrations to life in puppet form for our stage adaptation of WOW! It’s Night-time.

How did you go about bringing Tim Hopgood’s illustrations to life as puppets?

Tim’s illustrations are so beautifully simple and stylised that it’s fairly easy to imagine them as puppets. The process starts in the Research & Development period where the creative team explore different possibilities. Joy Haynes, the director, had a very clear idea of how she wanted the puppets to look. She wanted simple shapes that could relate to the animals’ characters with a very organic feel to them, which is why they look like they are made from paper or card and use leaf shapes to create things like tails and paws.

Photo: Ellie Kurttz

You also designed the puppets for this show’s predecessor, WOW! Said the Owl. How did you make the puppets for WOW! It’s Night-time different?

WOW! Said the Owl was a very different show and the puppets I built for it were mostly fabricated. The owl in WOW! Said the Owl was a baby owl, which is why I made her toddler shaped. Toddlers and young children tend to stick their tummies out and have a forward hip stance and that is what I tried to reflect in our first version of the owl. In choosing that shape, I wanted the puppet to convey that sense of awe and wonder that toddlers feel when discovering their world, which Tim had captured so well in WOW! Said the Owl.

In WOW! It’s Night-time our owl is a bit older, so I wanted a slimmer, more grown up version of the owl puppet. The night-time puppets are much more complex in their build and have lots of mechanisms in them. There are moving eyes, light up eyes, and light up bodies.

What materials did you use to make the puppets?

One of the biggest considerations for making any puppet is weight, especially as there is only one performer for this show, so I used a couple of different thermoplastics to keep them as light as possible. Whilst the puppets look simple they are anything but, and that’s even before the light effects were installed. I used a non-stick baking parchment for the outer skins, which had to be dyed in the right colours and then stabilised with glue and muslin on the back; in some cases I also used buckram. The most challenging aspect was installing the lights and finding a power source that would not add too much weight, and be small enough to fit inside the puppets’ bodies or heads.

Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Which was your favourite puppet to make?

The baby owl. There wasn’t going to be a baby owl in R&D, but then it was decided we needed one.

What led you to becoming a puppet designer?

Way back in the last century there was a series of marionette shows created for television by an insanely talented group of creatives all brought together by a producer called Gerry Anderson. I am sure most people in this country will know of one of Gerry’s most iconic productions, Thunderbirds. I watched all the other shows Gerry produced before Thunderbirds came along and all I wanted from that point on was puppets. I was so lucky to be a child in the last century when you could buy an excellent brand of marionette puppets called Pelham puppets. I got my first marionette on my fifth birthday, which was a Scotsman in traditional kilt and velvet jacket, Tam o’ Shanter, sporran, and holding a bottle of beer! That’s how it all started – the seeds were sown and I am now one of those very lucky people who gets paid to do what they love, and although I don’t get the opportunity to make as many as I would like, marionettes remain my first love. However, despite having and making puppets all my life, doing it professionally wasn’t even a dream or goal, I never thought I was good enough. Thankfully, and through pure luck, other people and Little Angel Theatre did.

WOW! It’s Night-time is on at Little Angel Theatre until 27 January. For more information and tickets, click here.