Clementine the Living Fashion Doll is set to make her West End debut this Christmas, as her seasonal special heads to Live at Zédel for a short run this December. Clementine is the alter ego of top puppeteer, Mark Mander; he trained at the Norwich Puppet Theatre, performing there and at Islington’s Little Angel Theatre, as well as working on TV and film (including Rainbow and Muppets Most Wanted).
As you know, I have a certain penchant for puppetry here at Mind the Blog, so it only seemed right to ask Mark a few questions in the lead-up to the festive performances…
What first drew you into puppetry?
There were two huge puppet-related influences on me as a young child. Firstly I was given a Pollock’s toy theatre – which is a cut out cardboard construction with full scenery for a play and tiny flat actors one pushes onto the miniature stage. They were hugely popular in Victorian England and are still available from Pollock’s toy shop on Scala Street in London, and in Covent Garden.
I was captivated by the excitement of producing Cinderella on this minuscule stage – the pace, colour, and spectacle of a pantomime or a drama can be captured in toy theatre and it is a simple introduction to the magical possibilities of puppetry.
The second influence was the Muppet Show which I think I saw the year after being given my toy theatre. I suppose they are polar opposites – one being about the simplest way one could create a show using cardboard and glue and the other the product of an extremely talented puppeteer, tailoring puppets to the sophisticated medium of television.
I can remember being transported into the world of the Muppets – it made much more sense to me that what is usually known as reality. I think I started work on building my own versions of Miss Piggy and Kermit the week after seeing the first episode. I was completely hooked and determined to become a puppeteer.
Amongst the many other things you have worked at the Little Angel Theatre and with the Muppets. What has been the highlight of your puppetry career so far?
Tough question – it made me realise that I compartmentalise my work. I’m both a jobbing puppeteer who works in TV, film and theatre, but I also write and produce my own work, and they feel very different areas of my career.
Being asked by Nigel Plaskit, the puppet co-ordinator on the recent film Muppets Most Wanted, to join the small core team of British puppeteers was certainly a highlight – and getting to touch the hem of Miss Piggy’s gown, both figuratively and literally, was a career high.
As far as my own work is concerned, making a full-length presentation for the BFI a couple of years ago, in which Clementine raided the archives and presented clips of well-loved puppet characters like Lamb Chop, Pinky and Perky and Hartley Hare was great fun. It was shown on the biggest screen at the South Bank and I certainly felt I had ‘arrived’.
I went to Crazy Coqs recently and noticed that the glamorous movie star Kathleen Turner was giving a concert. It reminded me of the many international ‘names’ who have appeared at the venue, and it was very exciting to think that Clementine will soon be gracing the same stage.
Can you give us a flavour of Clementine’s 2017 Christmas Special?
I’m very much part of the TV generation and fondly remember ‘Christmas Specials’ as an essential part of seasonal viewing; not just Morecambe and Wise, or the Two Ronnies, but everyone from Stanley Baxter to Cilla Black seemed to have their own Christmas Special!
I’m evoking the spirit of these seasonal treats.
Clementine is the hostess and star of the show, she will sing several songs live on stage and also appear on film with some surprise human guest stars. There will also be several spectacular puppet variety acts performed live on stage by Ruth Calkin and Mark Esaias, two of the UK’s leading puppeteers.
So, all in all, expect a proper variety show, with songs, sketches, comedy, guest stars, seasonal silliness and plenty of glamorous PIZZAZZ – all with a sophisticated adult edge, as it’s the Crazy Coqs after all!
Do you have any future plans for Clementine?
I have many, many future plans for Clementine – of course they involve her own show in Vegas and her own TV series… I live in hope that you will be asking me for details of them soon. In the shorter term Clementine may well tour the UK next year…
Are there any puppetry based ambitions you would like to fulfil?
In terms of non-Clementine puppetry, I would very much like to work on a certain big film franchise, currently being filmed in a galaxy far far away…
Clementine’s Christmas Special runs at Live at Zédel from 19-20 December 2017. Tickets are available online or from the box office.