Caricature theatre: jane phillips
Jane Phillips, founder and director of the Caricature Theatre of Wales (1965-1984) was born and brought up in Wales where she was a student at Cardiff Art School. Thereafter she went on to become apprenticed to the Hogarth Puppets who invented Muffin the Mule. She worked with them by for five years and then went on to become a freelance puppeteer in London acting in other companies and for films and television as well as editing a magazine on puppet theatre. After returning to Cardiff she then worked for two years at the Cardiff College of Music and Drama.
The first Caricature company was composed of six students from this course. Her first big break into the profession came with a commission to make Cullhweh and Olwen, a Welsh legend, for the Cardiff end of the Commonwealth Arts Festival. In 1965 the company of eight members was established as a charity and came into the receipt of a small annual grant from the Welsh Arts Council.
During the next twenty years, until its closure in 1984, Caricature Theatre Company was one of Britain’s foremost mask and puppet companies touring England, Scotland and Wales bringing enjoyment to around 50,000 children and parents each year. Jane trained and employed teams of young designers who worked together to provide a varied repertoire of experimental theatre productions, television techniques, children’s books, shadow plays and cut-out animation films and black theatre. Small-scale work that started in schools expanded to fill regional theatres such as The Oxford Playhouse, York Theatre Royal and The Ashcroft in Croyden. The repertoire eventually included The Three Bears, Prokofiev’s Peter and The Wolf, Hans Anderson’s The Tinderbox, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Meet The Scribble Kids, Thackeray’s The Rose and The Ring, The Flower Maiden (from the Mabinogion), Panache, Back To Square One, The Scribble Kids Story Book, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, The Snow Queen, Aladdin, Pippi Longstocking, Mother Goose, A Dog Called Samson, Of Gods and Greeks, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Culwich and Olwen, An Edwardian Family Album, Tilly and The Amazing Intergalactic Zoo, The Papertown Paperchase, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Meet The Scribble Kids, The Meg and Mog Show and The Carnival of The Animals. There were even additional co-productions with Christopher Leith and Violet Philpott plus a plethora of television work.
Caricature Theatre was unique in its combination of mask, mime, physical theatre, puppets and performing objects. The Company folded in 1985 after the Welsh Arts Council withdrew its grant of £85,000. The puppets, props, sets and related ephemera went into storage for the next ten years. Eventually, 12 large wooden boxes including posters and some books were donated as a legacy by Jane to The Scottish Mask & Puppet Centre. The company mascot Panache looks out over our café while those from Of Gods and Greeks adorn our training workshop. Jane’s belief that puppet theatre represents liberation from self for the actor and her conviction that music and dance co-ordinated with excellent mask and puppet manipulation in an environment of teamwork and design has yet to be surpassed in the UK.