Shadow Play

Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival, in partnership with Age UK Tunbridge Wells and Smoking Apples Theatre Company, is delighted to announce a new community arts project for those living with dementia.


Over the course of five weekly sessions this summer, Smoking Apples, an award-winning puppetry and visual theatre company, will work with those living with dementia who attend the day care centre at Wood Street in the town. They will create a 30-minute film, which will be screened by invitation only in October this year and also at the 2019 Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival. The project aims to engage those living with dementia to recall stories and experiences through the medium of shadow puppetry.

Finger and Thumb Theatre: The Carnival of the Animals – shadow puppetry at the 2017 Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival

‘While we recognise the participants may struggle to form connected memories, shadow puppetry works very well with fragmented ideas,’ explains Molly Freeman, co-artistic director of Smoking Apples. ‘We aim to uncover some of the participants’ stories using music, photographs and films as stimuli to get the ideas flowing. We will then use these ideas as a basis for the group to create and design shadow puppets.’

Smoking Apples are visiting the centre in June to discuss their plans ahead of the first session on 4 July. ‘We are so looking forward to meeting everyone, discovering their interests and working together to convey them through puppetry,’ says Molly. ‘This is when it will really come alive. We hope they will enjoy it and have fun!’

Left to right, Matt Lloyd, Molly Freeman and Hattie Thomas, co-artistic directors of Smoking Apples Photographer: Richard Davenport 2016

Alongside its traditional day care, the Wood Street centre provides a safe, peaceful place for those living with dementia who enjoy socialising in small groups, while also allowing respite for their carers and loved ones. The youngest are in their early 70s, and the oldest in their early 90s. This puppetry project – a first for the centre – is an exciting addition to its programme of creative activities that foster interaction and wellbeing. Joanna Marks, service support manager, says, ‘During these sessions, we have plenty of laughter! They encourage our guests to socialise and reminisce – they will remember episodes, and the trick is to tease them out. Some may simply enjoy watching others taking part. The evidence shows that creative pastimes improve the mood of people living with dementia.’

We’re thrilled to see this important project getting underway. Do follow us on Twitter @TWPuppetryFest and Instagram @twpuppetryfest for all the latest updates.

Read the Shadow Play Blog here.

To find out more about Wood Street, please visit

To find out more about Smoking Apples, please visit

Questions or for further information, please email


Thanks to our fantastic funders for making the project possible: