Puppets in Ministry: a religious performance

24 04 2023

Christian Ministry

Puppets in Ministry: a religious performance

Gareth K Vile

In a church  on the Royal Mile, the Fringe’s enthusiasm for performance finds expression in a Christian youth ministry. Between lively singalongs and the twisting of balloon animals, a puppet show is part of a service. Aimed at families – hence the almost frenetic pace and leaps between different experiences – a group of young people display their puppetry skills in a scenario that explores an Old Testament tale and Christian values through time-travel and marionettes.

The association of the puppet with children’s entertainment is clearly made: the puppet show is used to bring religion to a young audience, and the charm of the characters – and their attendant animals – frames the seriousness of the intention and narrative with a fluffy, playful warmth. And although the performers have impressive marionette manipulation moves, the purpose of the show is not in the artistic excellence but the simple presentation of Christian values. In a way, it is a place where puppetry slips the boundaries of art and arrives in another territory, a medium for communication, almost closer to a font or format than theatre.

And, of course, it is a single aspect of the service: immediate enough to provide the foundation for the subsequent sermon, but placing itself at the service of another intention. There is a humility in the puppeteers who not only disappear behind a screen, but recognise a different purpose to their project.

The puppetry itself affirms the medium’s capacity to engage, and to contain big ideas in a format that can speak to the very young. It’s kindly and warm and although the puppet could be used to explore complex ideas of free will and the divine, this production keeps the message simple and the puppets as actors – that is, there is no commentary on their nature, they simply play their roles.