Speaking the Unspeakable: Applied Puppetry in Practice

Matthew Smith

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis explores applied puppetry and how it works in practice. I examine how bodies and objects interact in workshop spaces in a practice-as-research (PaR) project conducted over two years in an immigration removal centre (IRC) through writing and a series of lecture performances. I also provide a consideration of why puppetry in traumatic contexts with groups and individuals is conducted in particular ways. I explore the complex dynamic between puppet participants and facilitators as a space of political and ethical problems. The thesis applies contemporary theories of biopolitics and new materialism to derive a performance practice that might be a model for using puppetry responsibly in relation to participants.
This PhD contributes a new approach to applied theatre using puppets. One of the most significant findings is that puppets are effective in developing dialogue and alternative creative spaces. Disruption of scopic regimes is only possible when puppetry is used in an ethical and flexible manner. Therefore the artist in an IRC has to take into account the powerful biopolitics that surround this workshop practice. Furthermore, the puppet and performing objects after the closure of the institution concerned become witnesses to practice with groups traumatised by immigration detention. This witnessing is expressed when the puppets are present in lecture performances outside of the prison. The use of puppets cast as witnesses and collaborators and the issues surrounding their relationship to participants’ is expanded in this work.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Cohen, Matthew, Supervisor
  • Nicholson, Helen, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jun 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017


  • Puppetry
  • Theatre

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