Henry and Mark: Possession by Puppet

03 10 2021

Henry is set within a puppetry Master Class on the subject of 'puppetry possession', hosted by master puppeteer Mark Down.  Down brings to life a puppet made of bin bags which begins to take on the character of his father, celebrated actor and old ham of the title, Henry Chessel.  

With the help of two slightly sinister, hooded puppeteers (Fiona Clift and Tom Espiner) masquerading as students, Down tells the story of Henry's rise to fame, fall from grace and the last week of his father's life.  Haunted by his father's recent death and a neglected childhood Mark explores the relationships between father and son, acting and puppetry, form and function, life and death.
Having already won two Fringe Firsts, with Citizen Puppet (2015) and The Table (2011), Henry acknowledges the power of puppetry as a mystical force: as the masterclass continues, the puppet has its own demands. And, as the puppet took on a life of its own, the show would change its name to reflect its central emphasis: it is now known as The Puppeteer.
Gareth K Vile: What was the inspiration for this performance?
Mark Down: We usually begin with a puppet and in this case with an old puppet that I wanted to revisit called “the tramp". He was made as a tramp character out of bin bags and sitting on a shopping trolley. I took him apart and started to remake him, and slowly he morphed into an "old hammy actor" and then "my late father”, and became someone called “Henry”.  It a tortuous and sometimes torturous process. The show develops from finding a way to use him on stage. 
Where The Table was about being a puppet, Henry is about being a puppeteer. Specifically a furious, fifty year old puppeteer.

Gareth K Vile: Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 
Mark Down: That’s such a difficult question. I want to say it is, and I want it to be. The mixture of intellectual argument and empathic engagement is potentially very powerful and should be, in theory, the perfect way to debate. But on the other hand Trump is a great performer, and indeed all the so called “populist" politicians, so I think we should be very wary of performance per se.
Gareth K Vile: How did you become interested in making performance?
Mark Down: I went to see Romeo and Juliet at the RSC in 1986 and I understood the play in a way that I really didn’t when I read it. That was revelatory for me. I wanted to do that for other people.

Gareth K Vile: Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
Mark Down: I "follow the puppet". And I get lots of help. Everyone involved is invited to share their opinions. Honesty is encouraged and has to be accepted in return. I work with some performers I’ve known a long time and like and trust. We have a shared ambition for puppetry. And we try it out on audiences before we are ready and get them to tell us what they think too. And we keep asking the question - why do we need a puppet to do this? What does a puppet bring to the story?
Gareth K Vile: Does the show fit with your usual productions?
Mark Down: It is experimental. It’s for grown ups. I don’t know if it’s any good. I like it. I hope it is funny and will move people. I hope it will make people think. And I hope it will fill people with wonder. And I will only know when we show it to audiences. So in those senses, yes.