Get involved with the festival

There are lots of ways to get involved with the Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival!

The third festival will bring contemporary, innovative puppetry to our town from Friday 11 to Sunday 13 October, and we hope it’ll be the biggest and best yet. An exciting programme of puppetry, animation, workshops and indoor and outdoor theatre shows make it a highlight in the Tunbridge Wells cultural calendar for young, old and everyone in between.

How you can support us

We welcome support of all kinds – in donations, sponsorship or time. We receive grants but also need to fundraise to meet the costs of professional artists, venue hire, technical support and marketing. If you are a local business and would like to find out more about sponsorship opportunities or donations in kind, please email Festival Director, Linda Lewis, at

We were delighted to feature in the spring 2019 edition of Viewpoint magazine, in which Linda explains how important volunteers are to our small organisation.


This article first appeared in Viewpoint, part of SO Magazine, 4th January 2019. Editorial by Key & Quill. Published by One Media & Creative UK.

Volunteer Opportunities

Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival is committed to equal opportunities. If you have some time to give, we would love to hear from you. There will be volunteer opportunities in marketing, school liaison, artist liaison, front-of-house and production. Details will follow in the spring, so please watch this space!


Support us and win prizes!

Feeling lucky, lucky, lucky? Take a look at our TW Lotto page. Tickets cost £1 – 50p goes to the festival and 10p goes to other local good causes. There’s a £25,000 jackpot to be won (and smaller prizes too!). Thank you and good luck to everyone who is already playing, and good luck to all new players!



Elmer the Patchwork Elephant at Hever Festival

This year, we’ve teamed up with our friends at Hever Festival to bring a very special show to its magical lakeside theatre: Elmer the Patchwork Elephant, inspired by David McKee’s classic children’s books, on Thursday 25 July. The show features 21 endearing animal puppets and is suitable for children aged one and above. This year, for the first time, it’s possible to buy a combined castle/garden/grounds/performance ticket so you can stay all day long at lovely Hever. Click here to find out more about Elmer and check out the summer festival programme in full.

Support Us

Are you a business based in Tunbridge Wells? The Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival needs you!

The Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival is a Community Interest Company and relies on funding to present the bi-annual festival. Your support is much needed to help us make the third festival the best yet.

In 2015, the festival welcomed over 4,000 locals and visitors to ticketed and free shows and workshops. In 2017, more than 4,500 people engaged with the festival through participatory schools workshops, as audiences to the busy programme of ticketed shows and as viewers of vibrant street theatre in the Pantiles and throughout the town.

For more information about how you can support the festival via sponsorship or a donation, please contact Festival Director, Linda Lewis:




Would you like to be part of an exciting event? Are you interested in the arts? Keen to meet others who share your interest? Why not join the Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival 2019 team as a volunteer.

There are lots of ways you could get involved. Gain experience of working with artists, see what goes on backstage, learn about promoting a festival and make new friends.

Festival Director, Linda Lewis, says: “There are opportunities to develop your experience and skills through the training we give which may open the door to new work opportunities, as it did for me forty years ago,” Linda remarks. “In 2015, we had student volunteers who have since gone on to work in the arts and returned to help us in 2017.

You get to meet the artists and see what goes on backstage. This is a perfect introduction to other jobs in the theatre, such as stage management, set design, production, lighting and sound.

The volunteers have the opportunity to make new friends who have similar interests.”

Please email if you are interested in volunteer opportunities at this year’s festival

2018 round-up and the 12 Plays of Christmas

2018 was a busy interim year for the festival! We commissioned two exciting new community projects – Hall of Dreams, a celebration of Tunbridge Wells’ historic Assembly Hall Theatre, and Shadow Play, a project that brought puppetry to those living with dementia. There’s been singing, dancing, puppet workshops, filmmaking and a lot of fun. If you haven’t already, put your feet up, grab a mince pie and watch the Shadow Play film.

Planning is well underway for the third Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival, which will take place 11-13 October 2019, subject to funding. We have lots of new ideas to share and we hope that you’ll want to get involved. Stay tuned!

Thank you for your ongoing support and we look forward to seeing you next year.

Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2019

Linda, Holly, Justine and Sarah
Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival team

It’s Christmas! Oh no it isn’t! Oh yes it is! Whether you love this time of year or not, there’s always lots of wonderful theatre to enjoy. If you need some inspiration, we’ve chosen our favourite Twelve Plays of Christmas within reach of Tunbridge Wells.

Tunbridge Wells

Sleeping Beauty at the Assembly Hall Theatre

7 December – 2 January

This starry pantomime is getting lots of love and so it should – it’s fabulous family entertainment. Claire Sweeney is the baddest of witches. Boo, hiss!

Wind in the Willows at the Trinity Theatre

13 December – 2 January

Tunbridge Wells’ small but mighty theatre always puts on a slightly alternative Christmas show and this year it’s Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad getting the Trinity treatment. We predict a riot!

Brighton & Hove

The Animals & Children Took to the Streets at The Old Market

19 December – 12 January

The amazing 1927 theatre company (Golem, The Magic Flute) present a twisted tale, spinning together performance, animation and live music. 12+.


The Night Tree at the Gulbenkian

11 December – 16 December

A one-hour show for children aged 3+, celebrating winter with songs, dance and dressing the Christmas tree with edible decorations. Meet the dancers afterwards for a stay-and-play session.

Horsted Keynes, East Sussex

A Horsted Christmas

21 December

Steam trains, reindeer, storytelling and a puppet show from the lovely Rust and Stardust gang – all aboard the Bluebell Railway for a nostalgic family day out.


Circus 1903 at Southbank Centre

19 December  – 5 January

A spectacular take on a turn-of-the-century circus, this is Circus 1903’s European premiere. The show features sensational life-sized elephants created by the War Horse puppeteers.

Mr Rabbit meets Brer Santa on the Puppet Barge

15 December – 31 December

The barge is moored at Little Venice for an enchanting family show starring hand-carved marionettes. A very special floating theatre!

Wow! It’s Night Time at Little Angel Theatre

7 December – 27 January

Puppet theatre for littlies aged 2-5, this sweet story of what happened next to Tim Hopgood’s curious little owl is one of the highlights of Little Angel’s festive programme.

The Wider Earth at the Natural History Museum

Now on, extended until 24 February

We’ve seen this and can highly recommend! A clever new play following the early adventures of Charles Darwin on HMS Beagle, told through puppetry, music and cinematic animation.


The Fir Tree (from Tales in Moominvalley) at Norden Farm

11 December – 30 December

With puppetry and music, Tove Jansson’s captivating world of The Moomins comes to life in a snowy story of a family that wants to hibernate over Christmas…


Norwich Puppet Theatre – The Princess and the Pea

20 December – 24 December

Quirky adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale with puppets and projections, presented by Banyan Theatre and Polka Theatre. 3+.


Winnie and Wilbur: A Christmas Adventure at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building

15 December – 23 December

Our favourite witch-and-cat double act touch down their broomstick in Oxford for this festive puppetry show created by local company Wild Boor Ideas.

Shadow Play – the premiere

Thursday 11 October 2018

By Justine Rutland

One rainy October evening, supporters, staff, volunteers, participants, funders and friends made their way to Age UK Tunbridge Wells, eager and curious to see the culmination of the Shadow Play project. Very few audience members knew quite what to expect, just as, months before, those of us directly involved – the festival, Age UK and Smoking Apples theatre company – were unsure as to how this pioneering project, which aimed to engage people living with dementia to recall stories and memories through shadow puppetry, would turn out.


It was lovely to be reunited with many of the participants, who we hadn’t seen since the creative sessions way back in the summer heatwave. Everyone mingled and chatted. There were introductions from Joanna (Age UK), Molly (Smoking Apples) and Linda (Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival). And then the lights were dimmed.

Left to right: Joanna Marks – Age UK, Molly Freeman – Smoking Apples, Matt Lloyd – Smoking Apples, Linda Lewis – Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival

Shadow Play is a funny, compassionate part- documentary film that immortalises some of the stories of the wonderful folk of Age UK, cleverly weaving them together to make a whole narrative by using the bookcase analogy so useful when understanding the impact of dementia on the brain. The audience was inspired and moved, and we hope you will be too.

Last Thursday may have seen the completion of the Shadow Play project, but through the film it lives on. We hope it’s only the first chapter of a long story.

Here are some tweets and comments from attendees:

“Everyone connected with the film had obviously researched the project. It was sensitive and inclusive.”

“Excellent and wonderful to those who suffer with dementia enjoyed life during a difficult transition of their lives.”

“It was approached with sensitivity and compassion. Everyone seemed to have a very positive and enthusiastic disposition which was extremely uplifting for the clients.”

A puppetry project for those living with dementia

Wednesday 1 August 2018 – Final Session – Thinking in Pictures

By Molly Freeman from Smoking Apples

After five glorious weeks, it’s hard to believe that our sessions with the guests of the Age UK Wood Street Centre have come to an end. It’s difficult to put into words the impact this experience has had on us and we’ve been honoured to get to know these people so well. David, a brilliant photographer we’ve had working with us on this project, said to me that in almost every picture he’s taken, I’m grinning from ear to ear. To be honest, that’s no surprise at all. You can’t help but smile about this group, they really are infectious!

It’s been an interesting journey for us, learning about what the group respond to and covering everything from puppet making, music, dancing, drawing, writing and singing. In this week’s session, we wanted to make sure that the participants had a clear concept of the film that we are going to be making out of their stories. Whilst we work with shadow puppetry and shadow puppet films on a regular basis, generally, it’s not always commonly understood what we mean by this. It’s really important to us that even now these sessions have finished, they don’t disconnect with the work and know that the film we make has come fully, from them. So, we showed the groups one of the previous shadow puppetry films we have worked on, Eider Falls by Lake Tahoe, a music video for Kate Bush. We also then showed them Hansel and Gretel by Lotte Reiniger, who is a huge inspiration to us. This really helped to outline how we might translate some of the participants’ stories and experience into a shadow film.

A common factor in our puppetry and in particular, shadow puppetry is the ability to think in pictures and to think about how the pictures communicate meaning. This is something that the participants have shown a real interest and skill in across the sessions, with a strong connection to storytelling, as mentioned in previous blogs. We have found that their interest in more abstract concepts, however, is limited but thinking in pictures that tell a story has really grabbed their attention. In this week’s session, we worked with the group on creatively storyboarding a tale that we made up from scratch. Drawing each slide of the storyboard encouraged the participants to think about what the spectator was seeing in each moment and how we needed to either add slides in to make things clearer or we could also take slides away, to allow for a more abstract intervention. We noticed that this started to help the group grasp new ideas and that as the reliance on everything making sense or everything being connected was reduced, they were able to be more creative with the exercises. This is very similar to the process we will undertake when storyboarding the film and in order to incorporate a little piece of everyone in the group, we’ll have to reach towards the abstract, at times.

Over the past five weeks, I’ve really noticed the importance of expression within the group. At times, Dementia seems to be hugely frustrating, infuriating even, however, finding new ways for the group to express themselves has been key to the positivity and joy found in every step of this project so far. It seems to me that our group are often bound by the expectation to recall, remember, speak and move in a connected way, however, we’ve explored a number of different expressions with them. Working with puppetry, dance, creative writing, music and dance have all been outlets of expression for the participants, allowing them to let their personalities and stories shine through and gosh have they shone brightly!

The next stage for us is a key one and it’s certainly going to be a challenge to capture the essence of the incredible people in our little film. However, the thoughts of their smiling faces is enough charge for any person.

It’s not goodbye forever to Wood Street but goodbye for now and we can’t wait to go back to show them the final film. I can tell you now, I won’t be watching it, I’ll be watching their faces!

Shadow Play Blog Post 2

Blog Post 2

By Molly from Smoking Apples

Wednesday 11 July 2018 – Session 2

It’s probably no surprise that our group at Age UK in Tunbridge Wells have the most incredible stories. But having a story and wanting to tell it are two very different things. Part of Hattie’s job and mine, therefore, is to get to know the participants in the group and, if they’re comfortable, hope that they will share some of their stories with us.

Luckily for us, we had no need to worry and blimey, what a session it was! We were truly amazed at the detail, depth and emotion of the stories that we were told, both the ones that came out through the facilitated parts of the session but also our chats with the participants over lunch and coffee throughout the day. In our generation of social media, smartphones and the internet, we still tell stories, but in a very different way. It’s instant and the segments of stories are delivered immediately so you rarely see the overview of a story; rather, you hear about each bit of it, as it happens. Our participants, in this group, are the letter-writing generation, and the care and attention they take in describing things visually is just magical. In the space of three hours we covered everything from marrying a sailor (even though your mother told you not to!), playing in bands, watching jazz at Preservation Hall in New Orleans and dancing on the Pantiles for Empire Day.

As Hattie mentioned in her blog last week (see below), the participants have a strong connection to music and many of the stories we heard this week were closely related to music. The way in which the participants described their stories was also incredible. The heart and humour of the retelling is key and something we hope to include in the film. There’s also a real sense of joy working with this group and again, alongside the music, this seems to be emerging as another strong connector for them. The group regularly refer to feeling joyful or remember the times from their stories as joyful, and it’s interesting for us to observe that these are the moments that are most fixed in their memories.

 So both storytelling and music are coming forward as key factors in this process so far as they really allow for the participants to engage with what we are doing. We’ve also been working with them to further unlock their imaginations and not fixate so much on what actually happened, as this can sometimes cause frustration, particularly when things are difficult to recall. We spent some time listening to different types of music and creatively drawing a response to it on paper, and also trying to match music with a series of pictures and images, encouraging the participants to make the connection between music and visuals.

 The stories from the group, imagined or otherwise, are so captivating and we’re now thinking of ways to incorporate them into the film alongside the shadow puppetry. Next week, we’d like to try to record some of the stories from the participants and work with the idea that they could be used as audio to accompany some puppetry visuals. Their voices, and the way in which they tell these stories, are paramount, and we absolutely adore listening to them. Fingers crossed the audience will too!