Nathaniel-de-Ville and Matthew Robins: interview



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Nathaniel-de-Ville, host of the weekly VauxhallVille ’adult‘ cabaret, chats to fellow puppeteer Matthew Robins about their uniquely ’transgressive‘ take on the art

  • Nathaniel-de-Ville and Matthew Robins: interview

    Nathaniel-de-Ville (© Mike Kear)

  • Nathaniel-de-Ville

    When I started gigging with puppets a few years back, no one else seemed to be making adult work. But I was recently asked to host Puppet Grinder at the Little Angel Theatre, an entire puppet cabaret with a 16 certificate. Do you think puppetry is having a renaissance?

    Matthew Robins

    Thanks to companies like Faulty Optic and Improbable, and shows like ‘War Horse’ and ‘His Dark Materials’ at the National, there is lot more interest recently in puppets as serious theatre. Still, people often dismiss shows with puppets in as being for children, often out of hand, which is weird.


    The Little Angel is usually a children’s theatre, so when they asked me to do a grown-up show it was a bit of a red rag to a bull. I managed to incorporate a fully-erectile penis puppet, a puppet-on-puppet blowjob and even a story about fisting. Do you create shows for only adult audiences? Do you find that the inherent cuteness of puppets allows you to be more transgressive?


    What is interesting is that people have tended to respond in the same way to our shows, whether they have been at a nightclub with an obviously adult audience, or somewhere like the Victoria & Albert Museum where there is a mix of ages. They have responded quite openly. I think it is so important to be making work that you like, that you want to see – rather than trying to aim at an audience or an age group.

    Matthew Robins' Devil


    I first came to puppets when I decided I wanted to play Hamlet. The only way I could see to do this was to cast myself as Hamlet and cast all the other characters as puppets – which I then manipulated. As the VauxhallVille crew will attest, I’m still a control freak and what I love about puppets is they don’t answer back. What brought you to puppets?


    A big part of it was that – instead of standing there singing or saying: this is me, listen to me – the puppet is doing it for you and is something to hide behind. It’s interesting when doing a Punch and Judy-style show, because people already know and accept the format; it takes away some of that awkwardness of watching a real-life performer (are they going to fail? Will it be embarrassing?). You can relax. It’s a mask.


    I have to confess, I don’t really consider myself a puppeteer, more a performer who works with puppets. I find the puppet world a bit, well, anal. For instance, I do a Punch and Jude show (it is the age of civil partnerships, after all) and a puppeteer colleague was outraged when I confessed I don’t swazzle. The swazzle, to give away a trade secret, is the funny little instrument you put in your mouth to produce Punch’s voice. Now, I’ve had some funny little instruments in my mouth in my time but I just can’t get my teeth around that one. You’re doing a Punch and Judy show for us at VauxhallVille. Can I ask, do you swazzle?


    Ha ha! There’s no swazzle in our show, I sing the parts of all the characters and they all have my voice.Nathaniel-de-Ville hosts VauxhallVille every Thursday at the RVT. Matthew Robins is appearing at VauxhallVille on Thursday February 28. The next Puppet Grinder is at the Little Angel on July 19-20.

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