Punk pigs, deadly dragons and sci-fi skirts


The three disgruntled punk pigs trotting around Copenhagen next week might look like rebels without a cause, but they are not as free as they appear. In the wings, there is a greater force pulling on the puppet strings – a puppeteer, in fact. These dexterous performers and their puppets are set to invade the city next week as a part of Puppet Junior – a five-day festival geared towards children and their families.


The festival was first dreamt up during a job interview in 2004. Barnaby Pedersen was applying for a position at Kulturanstalten – where he is now project and culture co-ordinator – and when asked what Copenhagen needs, he replied “an international puppet festival”. He got the job and in 2006, Puppet Junior was born. The main idea was to see whether it was possible to perform puppetry outdoors and in public spaces – a phenomenon unprecedented in Copenhagen. Its inception was initially to serve as a forerunner for the adult-focused Copenhagen Puppet Festival. 


The two now run on alternate years, but Puppet Junior has become even better established than its adult sibling. This is partially due to the relative ease with which the organisers can garner funding for the children’s event. Pedersen puts this down to people in Denmark commonly associating puppetry with children’s theatre rather than being suitable for adults. “When you look at the West End in London, there are several plays where puppetry skills are used,” Pedersen said. “And through the festival, we want to introduce puppetry not only to the theatre-goers, but also to the theatres.” In recognition of his efforts, Pedersen received an UNIMA honorary award last year for increasing awareness about puppetry in the media and broader community. He thinks the festival has given puppetry a leg to stand on in Denmark, enabling puppeteers to show how powerful their craft can be.


When a puppeteer is clever enough, the illusory action on stage can evoke real emotions from the audience. The King of Pain, a puppet that featured in the festival’s 2007 programme, was a good example. The puppet was forced by his pushy show director to eat swords and stick needles through his body, eliciting squeals from the squeamish audience, who had apparently forgotten that the King of Pain was an inanimate object. “I think there is something really magical about it when a seemingly dead object is brought to life,” Pedersen said, adding that the possibilities of what audiences can see on stage are heightened when there is an object between the performer and the audience. “The puppet can do a lot more than the performer would be allowed to.”


Some of the stars of this year’s programme are three cigarette-smoking tearaways – otherwise known as the three little pigs – a dragon marionette that breathes fire, and an oversized Babushka doll with a whole puppet theatre inside her dress. By performing in playgrounds and moving to four different boroughs around Copenhagen, the festival is able to attract a broad audience. And because the festival is free, it makes it accessible to everyone. Pedersen said people aged between zero and 99 could enjoy the festival. While most of the shows for toddlers will run in the morning, the organisers have made a conscious effort to try to entertain the accompanying mums, dads and grandparents throughout the day as well. 


Pedersen’s Kulturanstalten, along with 2200 Kultur, Sokkelundlille Børnekulturhus and Amagerbro Kultur, are hosting the event, and now that the programme is finalised, all the organisers can do is pray for sunshine. If the weather is too miserable, the performances will move indoors. In 2010, four days of glorious sunshine coincided with the Puppet Junior event and 4,500 people showed up to witness the spectacle. Pedersen hopes Puppet Junior will attract at least that figure again this year, if not surpass it.


Puppet Junior

Venues in Amager, Nørrebro, Bispebjerg/Nordvest & Vesterbro;

Starts Thu (Aug 23), ends Aug 27;

Free adm;