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The Harlequin Puppet

It is something of a paradox that the amateur puppeteer has more time to devote to making beautiful puppets than does the performing professional. And the more successful the performer, the less time he has for construction. Whereas the amateur may spend a whole year lovingly perfecting a masterpiece the busy professional has to grab a few hours in the workshop as and when he can. He usually has a deadline to meet and constructional corners tend to be cut. For professional use there is therefore a lot to be said for a marionette that is easily and quickly assembled.

Another consideration is that of workability. Again, our happy amateur can design first for appearance, and then by trial and error adapt the design if appearance conflicts with movement. The working performer must design for movement first - for he hasn't the time to spend remaking, or re-jointing if the initial model fails to function. Thus there is an argument for building to a proven pattern rather than just letting the puppet grow.

The skilful manipulator can probably make a fair job of working any marionette, given time and rehearsal. That same manipulator will make a better job, and in a shorter time, if his marionette is mechanically well designed.

The basic formula marionette developed by Eric Bramall and used at the Harlequin Puppet Theatre evolved through years of experience. It is a relatively simple puppet to construct. It is a basic design which readily allows alteration to suit character and is easy to costume. In the right hands it works very well.

Full constructional details can be found in Eric's book Making a Start with Marionettes published by Bell. The information which follows is intended to give additional stress to those points especially relevant to manipulation of the marionette, and to perhaps add a few points which were not made apparent in that book.

It is not necessary to slavishly copy this design for jointing or stringing (although if you do you can be assured that it is the distillation of years of trial and error) but it can be taken as a general guide, and might offer useful clues if you are having difficulties in a particular area of manipulation.

THE HARLEQUIN PUPPET -designed for performance

HEAD suspended slightly above and behind the centre of balance. Generally the head and neck can be modelled together. Joined to the body with a screw eye and long wire staple.
SHOULDERS must be wider than the head strings.
ELBOW needs generous movement in one direction only. We use a small brass hinge as at the knee, but the dowel arm is shaped to allow greater movement.
WRIST very restricted rotation, moderately restricted up and down movement. We use a screw eye and links of thin chain secured by a pin.
WAIST joints are a waste of time.
HIP - very free front and back movement, with a slight left and right turn. We use a long wire staple and a strip of thin leather glued in a slot.
KNEE restricted to allow NO backbend but cut to allow more than 90 degrees bend. We use a small brass hinge with brass pin removed and replaced with panel pin to allow free movement.
ANKLE - very slight up and down movement avoiding toe drop. We use a wooden tongue shaped on the end of dowel leg pivoted on a wire pim through slot cut in foot.

CONSTRUCTION The head is usually of plastic wood cast in a plaster mould from an original modelled in plasticine. The body is of soft wood shaped with saw, rasp and sandpaper. Hands and feet are carved from hardwood, or hands may be modelled. Arms and legs are from dowel shaped with saw and rasp.

We construct the wooden Control from dowel rod. Sizes vary with the size of puppet and size of hand. Many puppeteers favour a larger control than we use, and since the whole is a system of levers then a larger control does mean longer levers and therefore more movement for less effort. Eric Bramall first experimented with a rather small control for aesthetic reasons. He was inspired by a photograph in Beaumont's Puppets and the Puppet Stage which shows a very small, neat control. Apart from the appearance, a smaller control has practical advantage when it comes to packing or transporting puppets, and also when working on the bridge alongside another puppeteer.
As a rough guide, with our 24 inch theatre puppets the main bar of the control is around 5.5 inches of half inch dowel. The head bar is 5 inches long, the back bar 3.5 inches and the shoulder bar 4 inches. These are of five sixteenths dowel, as is the leg bar which is around 8 inches long. I am sure that you can do your own conversions if you think in metric.

Harlequin Stringing Sequence

The numerals refer to the sequence as well as identification.
Strings should be attached firstly to the puppet, then adjusted at the control.
Elobow (3) strings go behind the head (1) strings
Suspend the puppet throughout the stringing. Check the function of each string as you progress.

  • (1) Head
  • (2) Shoulders
  • (3) Elbows
  • (4) Back
  • (5) Hands
  • (6) Legs



Chris Somerville offers tuition in marionette manipulation, either for groups or on a one to one basis. You can get full details by writing to Chris at
The Harlequin Puppet Theatre, Rhos-on-Sea, Colwyn Bay LL28 4EP, North Wales, U.K.
or by Email

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