French Compagnie Archibald Caramantran brings its giant marionettes to WOMADelaide next month

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Compagnie Archibald Caramantran, a French circus company which creates giant marionettes is coming to Australia for WOMADelaide in March. A few weeks ago, we spoke with Olivier Hagenloch, the founder of Compagnie Archibald Caramantran.


Compagnie Archibald Caramantran


You’re coming to Adelaide for WOMADelaide. Have you been before?

No. We’ve never been. It’s the first time that the company has been to Australia to perform.


Tell us about the marionettes that Compagnie Archibald Caramantran is bringing to WOMADelaide.

Yes, they are marionettes, but giant marionettes. They are 4-5 metres high.



Yes. They are very big. Very voluminous. Everything moves, the hands, the arms, the body. The body is a bit like an exoskeleton. Everything that we do with our own bodies is replicated in the marionette.


When we move a little, if we start dancing, the hands and the arms will react the same way as us. So the operator is visible – he or she is underneath. And when see the manipulator move, we see the operator move. It’s the same image.


Who designs and makes the marionettes and what are they made from?

So I am the founder of the company and I am the director of the team. And I’ve been doing this since 1998. In France, for the World Cup for soccer, we were asked to make giant people for the opening parade for the World Cup in 1998.


But of course, our marionettes have evolved a lot. We’ve done a lot of research. Today we are installed in Carpentras, in Provence in the South East of France, not far from Avignon. In France, Avignon is the theatre city.


Compagnie Archibald Caramantran


So all Compagnie Archibald Caramantran’s marionettes are made in the city of Carpentras.

That’s right, we have a large factory where we make our marionettes. There are twenty or so people in the company who work on their construction. Sometimes we put on more people when we have a number of shows.


But otherwise, we are twenty odd and we all have different professions. There are sculptors, painters, costume designers… we have all of these people all of the time. It’s a job. It’s a passion.


They are true artists.

Yes. Everything is made by hand. There are no machines.


It’s a bit of a lost art. It’s rare to still find anything hand-made.

Yes, we build our marionettes based on very old technique. Paper mâché for example. In France there is a large carnival tradition and we make large paper mâché heads. In Spain, they make falles, large characters that are burnt.


At Caramantran, the Caramantran character is the King of the carnival. That’s what we burn.


So you make them and then you burnt them!

Yes, we create giants that we burn to celebrate at the end of carnival. These are very unique pieces that we make together. It’s special.  Today we are working a lot more with modern materials like aluminium or resin –which allows them to be light and solid.


Actually I was going to ask you how heavy they are given that you carry them on your shoulders.

Yes, they are quite heavy – between 20 and 30 kilos. A good backpack! But our team is all quite sporty and we have practiced a lot. And once it’s up on your shoulders, you don’t think any more about it because you’re really into the dance and into the interaction with the audience.


Where does Compagnie Archibald Caramantran get its ideas for its marionette characters from?

That’s done in the group. We think about them in the context of what we have as a new show. We make marionettes each year. And for the last few years, we have also been on stage, we do marionette theatre on a large scale including aerial performance and vertical dancers. Sometimes there are pyrotechnics and we burn the caramantrans.


Are we going to see pyrotechnics in Adelaide?

No, it will be the show that we did in 2007, the company has travelled to Africa a lot, to Burkina Faso. We have a sister company – we set up a place to make giant marionettes. So there’s a little town next to Burkina Faso. We have another giant marionettes company that works in Burkina Faso a lot.


So with them, we created giant marionettes around a wild animal text. We created 8 characters –a lion, a zebra, an antelope, a giraffe… so we have a whole series of characters. So we will be coming to Adelaide with a large lion, Madame Antelope and other characters that we made in Morocco – including a woman called Soumaya and a traditional Moroccan man.


What are the challenges in transporting your marionettes? Especially given their size.

We make our marionettes so that they are dis-mountable. So everything comes apart. We often travel by plane and our marionettes can come on board with us. We have large aluminium cases and we put our marionettes in there piece by piece. It’s not very complicated. But they are quite voluminous and do take up a lot of room.


Fortunately you’re coming in summer so you won’t have to worry about also packing heavy clothing!

We are absolutely delighted to have been invited to the festival. We met the festival programmer in Hungary. The programmer saw these marionette there. We are really very happy to be able to come. Only some of us are able to come to the festival. I won’t hide from you that the entire company wanted to come!


What can audiences expect from Compagnie Archibald Caramantran’s performances at WOMADelaide? Will you be bringing music with you? Is everything choreographed?

In fact, we are coming to Australia for the first time and we hope that it will please Adelaide and that we will have success over there. We have different types of shows. We have shows with musicians and lit-up, luminous marionettes. In this case, we don’t have marionettes that are luminous and we come without musicians. We will dance to the music that we find there. I think that WOMADelaide will have what we need in music. As a result, this time we are just coming with our giant marionettes.


And it’s not a show – that is to say we have shows that have a story, that have characters, that have actors and in which a message is transmitted. Here, these are giant marionettes which wander, which dance, and which play with the public and with which you can take a photo, etc. So there’s not a story as such. But the characters that we are bringing all tell you something. That is that even so, Africa, the animals and in the way in which we have built our characters, there is something about humanity and territory and the Earth and preserving the living. It’s not a message in a text or in theatrical words, but it’s a message carried by the characters that we bring to life.


Compagnie Archibald Caramantran


And you come from a family of street artists, don’t you?

I do, yes. I am a street performer. Ever since I was little, I’ve been to street theatre festivals…


So you performed in shows as a child?

No, but I was part of that world because France has a large street theatre tradition which was born in the 1980s. So I didn’t necessarily participate in the shows but I was used to rehearsals, preparations, travelling – because we spent a lot of time in a truck going from one town to the next. And the make-up and the costumes…


I started work as a sculptor and a painter. Before discovering marionettes, I was more so working with plastic. And then, little by little, I went to India once and trained in marionette making. All of the characters come from somewhere.


You could say that your path was destined with a family already in the arts!

Haha! It’s lucky encounters, lucky shows. I’ve been making giant marionettes for more than 20 years. We have also done operas. But we really do like street theatre, we like contact with the public, and we like to start with little things that build progressively in the parade, elements, marionettes, music etc. to finish with a show like with the last creation, called La Volière, in which birds are suspended from cords. That’s the aerial show.



I can’t wait to see the Compagnie Archibald Caramantran giant marionettes as they are already impressive in photos so I can only imagine they will be even more impressive in person.


You can see Compagnie Archibald Caramantran’s giant marionettes every day at WOMADelaide this March.


To know more about other francophone artists performing at WOMADelaide, click here. To purchase tickets click here.


If you could create a giant marionnette, what character would it be?


Compagnie Archibald Caramantran



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REVIEW: The Daisy Theatre at Sydney Festival

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Last week we went to see Ronnie Burkett’s Theatre of Marionettes’ The Daisy Theatre at Sydney Festival. You can also read an interview that we did with Ronnie Burkett here.

When a show starts with a striptease, you can’t help but ask yourself “what will happen next?”

This cheeky start was not the most shocking thing to happen in the show with people having apparently walked out in shock in previous performances!

Ronnie Burkett gives life to marionettes in the Daisy Theatre. He tells us at the beginning of the show that there are 40 of them but that we can’t possibly see all of them during the one two-hour show. Rather, each show is different given that different marionettes will be brought out depending on both Burkett’s mood and that of the crowd.

After the stripper, we meet two circus people, one very tall man with pervy tendencies and another very little character with a cute little voice called Schnitzel who is clearly scared of the other. The reason for Schnitzel’s name is never explained. Schnitzel, once alone on stage, tells us about his life, not feeling like he fits in and his wish for wings to be able to fly. He tells that sometimes he sees a man above, his creator and asks the audience if we too would like to see the man above. The crowd enthusiastically answers yes. Schnitzel then climbs the stage curtain to ask the man above if he will give him wings. The man doesn’t reply. The audience has already fallen in love with Schnitzel.

Schnitzel on the right in The Daisy Theatre. Image by Prudence Upton

Next up we meet a divorcee from Nashville who sings and dances for us. She is wearing a fabulous, detailed costume – just as all characters we meet are. Dressed in a white fringed dress, with white fringed boots, she amuses us for her musical number.

Schnitzel met his maker at the beginning of the show. Now it is time for the audience to meet Jesus. Jesus told us about his last Christmas with his parents and just how much he hates Easter with his Dad’s incessant bad jokes. Apparently this was the moment that had a lady walk out of the show previously. Jesus comically explains to us that commandments 1 to 10 can be forgotten and that it is commandments 11 to 20, which Moses couldn’t fit on the stone because he wrote the others too large, that are more important. He leaves us with commandment 11 – don’t be an arsehole.

Then it’s up to the audience to choose between 3 different characters to come out next. The crowd was divided but in the end it was the former Hollywood actress performing, and butchering, Shakespeare. She decides to perform Romeo and Juliet which of course means she needs a Romeo. A bearded man was chosen from the audience and brought onto the small stage. In a scene which became more and more ridiculous by the minute, the two of them attempt to re-enact the final scene of Romeo and Juliet in which Juliet wakes from her fake poisoning to find that Romeo has in fact properly poisoned himself and she decides to now join him in death. Our Hollywood actress was quite demanding and made our poor audience member Romeo do the scene over and over again. By about the 8th try, just before it could become too tiresome for the audience, they get it right!

Image by Prudence Upton

Burkett promised us vaudeville at the beginning of the show and he kept that promise. In a touching scene we see an elderly ventriloquist who is asleep and his dummy on his lap is willing him to wake up to perform their famous scene. This scene managed to put tears in the audience, this time not tears of laughter but twinging tears of compassion and empathy for the dummy explaining the ridicule and difficulty of their lives as has beens.

Next up, we meet Edna, the elderly lady who ended up on stage by accident. She thought she was in the green room. She makes us laugh with her stories of the CPC (the Commonwealth Pie Championships, of course!) However, she also touches us and pulls on our heart-strings with stories of her now deceased husband.

Then it was time for another audience choice. The character chosen by our audience was a Québécois lady who had been a popular singer in her time. She too needed audience assistance so another man was brought on stage from the audience. She mocked him for his choice of theatre attire (shorts and thongs). Seeing the interaction between these two was hilarious especially when our Québécois lady reminisced about the two of them making love. Reddening, the man didn’t know where to look or quite what to do! Having embarrassed him enough, or at least for now, she instructs him to turn wheels on a box which has been sitting in front of the stage. He does so and to our surprise an orchestra of marionettes comes out. Turn the wheel on the other side of the box and this orchestra starts to perform!

Image by Prudence Upton


We couldn’t possibly finish the show without seeing Schnitzel again who this time arrives on stage in his pyjamas with his teddy bear ready to go to bed. He talks to us about the courage of the audience members who came on stage and the love that he feels for the crowd. It was again a very touching moment.

Schnitzel ready for bed. Image by Prudence Upton

Ronnie Burkett is a marvel! Creating the characters, making the marionettes and then giving them a life for 2 hours straight without interval is incredible. Also impressive is the way that he could make the audience relate to the characters. We related to their stories – Edna now widowed and Schnitzel not fitting in. If you go to see just one show before Sydney Festival finishes, we highly recommend you make it this one.

You have until 26 January to see the show at the Sydney Festival. It’s on every night this week except Monday. Tickets and more information can be found here.