Running a puppetry session in prison…

  • Visiting the prisons was a highlight for me, as I had never experienced that kind of environment before and it was very different to the approved premises we were working at for the PD project. It was also a highlight for me as my supervisor, Rachel, had asked me if I wanted to run a session in the two prisons, based on some of the work I do at university.
  • I obviously didn’t want to turn down this opportunity, but was slightly nervous at the thought of running a session with the inmates. I took a lot of time to think about what kind of activity I could do with them, bearing in mind I was very limited on what materials I could take into the prison environment.
  • I eventually came up with the idea of creating marionette style puppets, and then using them as a drama tool. I was told I wasn’t allowed scissors, strong glue, any form or blue-tack or putty, anything sharp, and so I started to understand that I would have to re-evaluate the whole process of making a puppet, as the way we did it with Sean in first year would be completely unfeasible.
  • I did some research and finally decided on creating them out of newspaper and tape, with the bendy part of a straw as the joints.


  • Although they were sceptical at first when I pulled out a tangled, slightly battered puppet from my bag, upon arrival at the prison, they all gave it a go and at the end told me they were glad they took part as it had taken their mind off other things.

Layout of my weeks:

  • I began my placement by reading a lot of policies and procedures, and by undertaking my Health and Safety induction. Although slightly tedious, I got to learn lots about the company, where it came from, and its missions and values today.
  • I was interested to learn it had origins in Forum Theatre, created by Augusto Boal, and their journey from being a research centre in the University of Manchester, to the separate organisation that they operate as today.
  • I was then told the kind of work I would be undertaking in the following weeks;
  • Mondays: Working with BA Drama and MA Applied Theatre students, in a workshop with a different guest speaker each week.
  • Tuesdays: Arden School of Drama working on developing a workshop suitable for prison.
  • Wednesdays: PD project; Stafford House, Toxteth and Bradshaw House, Bury.
  • Thursdays: PD project; Edith Rigby House, Preston.
  • Fridays: PD project; Resettle, Speke.
  • The PD (Personality Disorder) project is something that TiPP are working on in association with NOMs (National Offender Management Service), in order to make a short film about life on the offender/PD pathway.
  • It aims to explore their experiences of being an offender with a personality disorder, and the services/support available to them. They do this by visiting approved premises for people who are just out of prison, called PIPEs (Psychologically Informed Prison/Probation Environments).
  • They undertake various visual arts activities in order for the residents to try new things and participate in group work, whilst also being asked to talk about their experiences. This is filmed and audio recorded, and will eventually be made into a short film.

TiPP – Theatre in Prisons and Probation Centre

  • When I first decided to go out on placement in second term, I realised I wanted to do something completely different, and unlike any of the placement providers that had been offered to us.
  • I knew my options were either Nottingham or Manchester, however I really wanted to take advantage of originally coming from Manchester, and therefore being able to do a placement in my hometown. I also had a huge interest in theatre for non-traditional audiences and participants, as my previous two IRPs had been based on disability and prison theatre.
  • I therefore decided to do a little research into what options I had, and I stumbled upon the website for TiPP Manchester. I decided to write an e-mail to the director, Simon Ruding, on the off-chance that they would be accommodating, and thankfully they were.
  • TiPP stands for Theatre in Prison and Probation Centre which is a registered charity in England and Wales.
  • It was established in 1992 as a development centre and today aims to be recognised as an international expert leading the development and understanding of effective arts-based practices for socially marginialised people, particularly those caught up in the CJS.
  • Their office is within the University of Manchester but they are a separate organisation from the Uni, although they help to run the Applied Theatre MA course and a Prison Theatre module on the BA drama course, which I got to be involved with.
  • Their mission is to use the unique power of the arts to stimulate positive change for the benefit of individuals and related communities within the CJS.

Making my model box

The model box first needed to replicate the Swan Theatre which we were designing for, so I used the printed copies of the ground plan and side elevation to get the measurements I needed. I then created the model box out of black mount board and UHU which I felt was quite sturdy.

I began with creating a new layer for the floor, so that the paint wouldn’t make the actual structure warp. I knew from my research that I wanted quite a neutral coloured set, and so once I had decided on the ‘illustration/graphic’ theme inspired by David Hockney, I was able to decide on the colour scheme of the set.

A large challenge for me was creating the side panels which represents the 4 rooms/ locations of the play, and is a large part in creating the ‘dolls house’ concept. I realised i needed to draw these in one-point perspective and so it took quite a few practices to get the drawings themselves right. I eventually was happy with the drawings so created the side panels, the floor and the proscenium roof area and I was happy with the way these 3 elements brought the concept together.

From here I needed to add in a few details, such as the coloured lighting in the windows, the lightbulbs which lined the proscenium arch and the stage itself to create the catwalk effect, and also furniture.

I also experimented with text and fonts for the Brechtian style sign at the top of my set. Once the lights and the furniture had been added I felt ready to present to the class.

Making a figure

This is something I hadn’t done before but I felt it was really important to learn the skills, as a figure can really help someone to understand the dimensions of a model box. Kate gave us a brief introduction to model making, with some tips on materials to use, so I decided on the method of using wire, miliput and masking tape.

I started out by measuring out the 1:25 height of a male and female, and then created the basic stick figure in wire. I added the miliput which I found to be quite dense, so I added small bits at a time so the figures weren’t too bulky.

Once the figures were in shape and hardened, I added masking tape for a rough outline of clothing, and then painted on the details.

My concept

After researching and deliberating over different styles or directions to go down, I finally settled on my ‘dolls house concept’.

  1. Graphic/Illustration

Inspired by David Hockey’s designs for A Rake’s Progress, I really wanted to have a neutral set which complimented the bold colours of the costumes. When I heard Tom Hardy’s description of the play as an ‘adult pantomime’, I was determined to have over the top, farcical costumes with exaggerated hair and makeup. This meant I needed a neutral set with pops of colour to compliment such an extreme costume design. I settled on an illustrated design to achieve this.

2. Dolls house

I came up with the idea of the play being set in a dolls house environment, to highlight their childish behaviour; they are all playing a game or each other. This would involves 4 hand-drawn rooms on side panels which would cover the balcony areas, and also a traditional proscenium style arch at the top as a roof. Each room would have a cut out in it, which would allow a particular coloured light to shine through and represent each location; green for Mrs Loveit’s house for example, as she is an envious character. I really liked the set design for Mary Poppins as an influence for this.

3. Catwalk

The stage, and its 2 extensions, would be lined with birdies or footlights in order to create a ‘catwalk’ atmosphere. This highlights the high presence of fashion within the play, as they are all trying to be the biggest socialite with the trendiest clothes. The lightbulbs also have the purpose of identifying each location also; they will light with the corresponding colour of the rooms. For example if the scene is in Mrs Loveit’s house, the room light will glow green, along with the footlights on the stage. For The Mall scene, a curtain would be drawn to cover the back half of the stage, and will show twinkling lights to represent an outdoor, nighttime space. The footlights instead of glowing a particular colour, would be flashing in different patterns to create a bold, ‘carnival-esque’ effect to show the fun element of the mall/ pleasure gardens.

4. Costumes

The costumes were my first decision, and the set led from there. Tom Hardy’s quote really inspired me to create fun and daring costumes with a huge emphasis on hair and makeup. I researched into pantomime, drag queens and caricatures to help achieve this statement look. As with the set, I wanted elements of 17th century clothing, yet with a modern twist.

Contextual Research

I wanted to look at past productions of Man of Mode to see where other designers have gone, and what approaches they may have taken. The National Theatre set in more contemporary in modern day London, which is a bold move which apparently paid off!

I was also really intrigued by Central’s production as they set it in the 80’s which meant some fabulous costume designs.


I also had a look at more traditional set design and costumes, as I definitely want some period influences within my concept, even if the whole thing isn’t completely 17th century.