Puppet master exploring the dark side of her art

Sian Kidd

Sian Kidd - Credit: Archant

Before we head upstairs to her workshop, puppeteer Sian Kidd warns me to be careful of the “bicycle forest” in the hallway of the house the 26-year-old shares with friends in Stoke Newington.

One of Sian's creations

One of Sian's creations - Credit: Archant

It’s a small room with three or four marionettes, including a green zombie called George, hanging from the window. A conjoined twin puppet lies unfinished on the table next to us.

Sian works at Puppet Barge, a family-run floating marionette theatre moored at Little Venice in winter and Richmond in summer. After completing a three-month traineeship with the company in 2009, she now performs part-time for an audience which has included Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and their children.

“They’ve really given me an amazing opportunity to develop a dying skill. Every time I think about it I go: ‘God you’re so lucky!’ But in the long run I hope that I’ll be able to work on my own stuff and not have to rely financially on them.”

Sian, who is also a care worker at Centre 404 in Holloway, recently founded her own puppetry business, Mirth and Misery, with marionettist partner Adrian Alexander Allen, who also works at the Puppet Barge.

Their first show of the year will feature the conjoined twin puppet alongside a wooden dwarf, hand-made by Adrian, in an “alternative Valentine’s Day” event at arts venue, Passing Clouds, in Haggerston on Saturday.

“We’re both interested in slightly darker work aimed at more of an adult audience than at the Barge. The show will be a starting block to try to explore the spectacle of deformity in Victorian freak shows. My experience of working with disabled adults feeds into that,” she says.

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She said: “I’ve done a hundred million other jobs and I hated them all. They never made any sense. I’d rather work with people and do something good than earn an extra couple of thousand making big companies more money. Care work isn’t about any qualifications you get, it’s about having the ability to be empathetic.

“But my love is absolutely for puppets and marionettes. I love the tiny hand-stitching you have to do for their clothes: you can’t just go to H&M and buy a puppet costume.

“If I could take the time off, which I would love to do, making a marionette would be a two-week process. It is time consuming but they are so enchanting. It’s like you’re a miniature god when you make them come alive.”

Sian became interested in puppetry at school after her teacher asked the class to make 30 puppets for a play when she was 18. She was hooked but didn’t pursue a degree course in the craft. “I chose Middlesex University because they had a module in puppetry,” she said.

“The Central School of Speech and Drama was the only place which offered a course at the time but I got scared off by my sensible family. They said: ‘You’ll fail! It’s useless!’ Now I think...” She slaps her forehead.

Since she has been working in puppetry for four years, with hindsight it seems like a foolish decision. “But I loved Middlesex and my family is incredibly supportive. Now that they see I can financially fund my lifestyle, they have relaxed,” she adds.

Sian needs to finish the conjoined twin puppet soon, but in between her care work, folk music nights and a candlelit life drawing class, she hasn’t found time. She says: “I’m a naturally busy person. If something is fun, interesting and it’s an opportunity to meet new people, I’ll do it. I’m seeing what the world gives me at the moment. I just like enjoying life.”