Miriam Lambert

Renowned puppeteer performing at Friars' Gate Theatre this weekend

John Rainsford

Reporter:

John Rainsford

Miriam Lambert

Renowned puppeteer Miriam Lambert

Born in Dublin I now live in Kilkenny and my education was really in the school of life.

For example, I was a puppeteer at the age of eight. Indeed, I was, at that time, manipulating the marionette ‘Babóg’ in the 1960s RTÉ series Murphy agus a Chairde. My father, the legendary puppeteer, and ventriloquist, Eugene Lambert, established the world famous Lambert Puppet Theatre, in Monkstown, Co Dublin, in 1972. My mother Mai, and our family of eight children, were all puppeteers at one time or another. Eugene lived to be 82 years old and was working right up to the time of his death. I loved and admired my late father immensely. He was a wonderful dad and mentor, a teacher and a true friend.

My father established the International Puppet Festival of Ireland and put the country on the map in terms of puppetry.

Most people will probably remember Eugene for his role as O'Brien in the children's television series, ‘Wanderly Wagon’ (1967-1982). A host of puppet creations joined him such as; Judge the dog, Mr Crow, Foxy Loxy and Sneaky Snake. I manipulated many of these puppets over the years including Judge on occasion. Eugene always voiced him, however. When Judge appeared sitting at a table or in a window, the puppeteer crouched underneath. The Squirrels were my characters and I manipulated and voiced them originally. Mr Crow changed puppeteer many times down the years and various Lamberts played the mice. All these puppets are, today, in the puppet theatre, run by my brother, Liam.

We had many visitors to our house over the years.

The most famous, of course, was the legendary Michael Jackson, who was intrigued by Dad’s work. Indeed, Eugene actually sang happy birthday to him, via one of his puppets, when he visited our theatre, with his own three children, in August 2007. Jackson first took an interest in Dad’s work following a big concert in Dublin in 1992. There was, also, the renowned French mime artist, Marcel Marceau. In fact, I once helped to cook a meal for the famous thespians Micheál MacLiammóir and Hilton Edwards. I distinctly remember the latter putting a napkin up in front of his face, and then drawing it up with his fingers, to mimic the theatre curtains rising. Behind each opening of the ‘tabs’ he pulled a tragi-comic face. Later, I got to play ‘Alice’ in the Lambert production of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Here Micheál MacLiammóir played the Cheshire Cat and Hilton Edwards, the Caterpillar. Amazingly, all the puppet voices were recorded and the puppeteers manipulated to a sound track which still exists to this day.

My role, today, is to successfully bring my art form to family audiences.

Currently, in my own solo puppet productions, I first come-up with an idea and then try to devise the production around it. I, also, write the script, make the puppets and props, and when staged, I hit the road performing in theatres, art centres, schools and community events, throughout Ireland and abroad. I often take a well-known fairy tale and develop my own version, with lots of humour, music, and a few surprises thrown in for good measure. For example, in my upcoming performance of ‘The Three Little Pigs Huff and Puff’ the big bad wolf avoids getting his bottom burnt. It is a privilege to entertain children, make them laugh and to spark their imaginations.

Anyone with a passion for theatre should follow their dreams. Although, depicted as a medium for children, in fact, many worldwide use puppets in adult theatre. I, myself, had a privileged upbringing with many wonderful memories of the people that I have met, and the situations that I have found myself in. From being in a circus clown’s caravan, watching the clown take his make-up off to sitting in the God's at the Gaiety Theatre, watching greats like, Maureen Potter and Jimmy O’Dea make magic. I have been very lucky in that I am not constantly waiting, as other performers are, for the phone to ring. I am able to create my own work and over the years have built-up a reputation on the circuit. Touring with my father was a great apprenticeship in itself. Indeed, if I was to do anything else in the business it might have been as a costume designer. Such was the varied nature of my early career.

Over the years, I have visited such diverse places as; Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, and the USA, to attend various international puppet and cultural festivals.

Indeed, in 1969, my parents took the family on a journey to Rome, packing all ten children into a small transit van, complete with bungalow tent, food, and cooking utensils. We headed for Dublin Port where the van was loaded on board a cattle boat with everyone closely following up the gangplank. My mother kept us entertained on our odyssey by teaching us tunes and having singsongs to pass the time. It was certainly a very memorable occasion, which the family still talks about to this day.

At Friars’ Gate Theatre in Kilmallock, this weekend, I will be putting on my solo puppet production; ‘The Three Little Pigs Huff and Puff’.

There will be a host of charming characters such as; Mummy Pig and her little piglets, who grow-up to have many adventures especially with a very hungry Big Bad Wolf. There are surprises in store and plenty of laughs. Come along and enjoy the day!

‘The Three Little Pigs Huff and Puff’ will run for one day only at Friars’ Gate Theatre in Kilmallock on Saturday, August 20 at 3pm. For more information phone: 063 98727 or visit the websites: www.friarsgate.ie and www.miriamlambertpuppeteer.com