The small but wonderful world of puppet theatre

Le Petit Monde is a puppet theatre company based in Edinburgh, creating shows that introduce young children and their families to the French language and culture through authentic French-speaking puppets.

We spoke to Artistic Director Tania Czajka about developing her practice and her latest creation - The Wonderful World of Lapin - which appears as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next week.

Lapin with Tania - Photo Credit Dan Tsantillis

Tell us a little bit about Le Petit Monde and Lapin’s latest venture

As a childcare practitioner, I really wanted to introduce my language and culture to the very young children I was caring for. So I made French puppets and in 2008, with the support of Puppet Animation Scotland, Le Petit Monde was set up and had its first bilingual show  'Lapin Wants Breakfast'. I toured with Lapin and his friends in my suitcase, performing in schools, nurseries and festivals.

In 2014, I was awarded Creative Scotland funding to develop a new show and then in 2015, Open Project Funding allowed us to follow on our work and create The Wonderful World of Lapin, which is touring now and hopefully next year.

How did you develop the ideas that fill Lapin's Wonderful World?

The ideas came from two main strands. From my previous work - where I made, designed, wrote and performed, all on my own - we kept the concept of the character Tania travelling with her precious garden in her suitcase. In the garden lives French-speaking Lapin and his friends. 

Then the creative team - mainly Director Alasdair Satchel, Composers Nik Paget-Tomlinson and Niroshini Thambar, and Set Designer Iain Halket - all brought their own artistic tastes and ideas to feed the concept of this little French world.

Tania and Lapin on stage

We also found inspiration from children, TV cartoons from our own childhood, and French personalities like Coco Chanel. It has been a fun process, especially because everyone understood perfectly the vision I had of this world.

I also have an ongoing inspiration in my very close relationship with my brother, from Robbygraphics, who has co-designed the puppets with me and has been designing all Le Petit Monde graphics since 2008. Le Petit Monde is a tribute to all the little worlds we created when we were wee.

I feel very lucky to be able to work with such talented people. 

Your shows educate as well as entertain – how do you go about achieving that?

Coming from a nursery 'learn as you play' background, for me it was obvious the two should go together if I was going to make bilingual puppet shows for non French speakers. So I carefully choose all the French words and sentences and make sure the stories can be enjoyed by all children, no matter their language background.

I try to make shows that are visually attractive, with stories that the children can relate to. The characters happen to speak French so the educational side emerges naturally and children learn new words without noticing. It is fascinating work, from the writing to the performing of it!

Tania and trunk - photo credit Andy Catlin, Puppet Animation Scotland

What kind of reactions do Lapin and friends get from audiences?

I have been performing with Lapin and his friends for eight years now and I am still amazed and touched by the audiences' reactions. They seem to instantly relate to the puppets and if they could, would cover them with kisses and cuddles - sadly, they are too fragile for all this adoration!

The children's feedback and drawings also show that the characters really tap into their imagination, which of course, makes remembering French words much easier and fun. Some children have had Lapin's photo for years in their bedroom, so I am told. Some are totally broken hearted when the show is over. It is very touching.

I liked the worm and the rabbit a lot! And the bird gave my doll a kiss!- Laila, aged 4

You’ve also created shows about child hunger… is there something unique about puppet theatre that helps tackle tough issues?

Definitely. My shows for 3 to 5 years old about children who don't have enough to eat are the perfect example, along with numerous projects that use puppets to get their messages across. Children know puppets are not real but they are real enough, when brought to life, to transport their imagination and have them transfixed into the story. It can be a very rich experience for children.

How has working with other artists and organisations helped you develop your ideas and practice?

It has helped hugely. After seven years of working on my own, I was coming to a point where it was difficult to progress. I needed the input and skills of others to create the show I wanted. Therefore, I am extremely grateful to Creative Scotland for believing in Le Petit Monde and giving me the opportunity to work with some of the best artists in children's theatre.

I have learned a lot through this project and because we are now touring the show, my practice continues to develop, the audiences' positive energy and feedback  encourage and inspire me to move towards new projects. I am a happy puppeteer!

What’s next for Lapin?

Mmm.... Maybe another adventure? Alasdair and I are starting to think what this could be.

The Wonderful World of Lapin comes to The Brunton in Edinburgh on Saturday 13 August 2016.

Then on Sunday 14 August, Lapin and friends will be at Bowhill House in Selkirk.

Tania received funding from the National Lottery through Creative Scotland's Open Project Fund.

Lapin - photo credit Colin Morris

Photo credits: Lapin with Tania (Dan Tsantillis), Tania and her trunk (Andy Catlin, Puppet Animation Scotland), Lapin close up (Colin Morris).

This article was published on 04 Aug 2016