Matthew Robins, Master Puppeteer

Matthew Robins is a man of many talents: artist, musician, singer, writer and shadow-smith, he describes his craft as 'home-made lounge folk-lore, romantic science-fiction shadow-operas' and it's a delight to behold!

This Christmas, Matthew is bringing joy to the land-locked people of London showing his wares at The Barbican and as part of the The National Theatre's festive offering, Beauty and the Beast. We caught up with the princely puppeteer to talk over his craft and the exciting things that he has lined up.

When did you first discover shadow puppetry?
My songs are very narrative driven and quite often have lots of complicated scenarios. I was finding it difficult to hold people's concentration in pubs and nightclubs for long enough to hear my whole set so I added live visuals with the shadow puppets. It worked and suddenly people were really focused and would watch the whole show! It's also allowed me to cross different boundaries, I've performed the same sort of shows at the National Theatre, the Tate, the Barbican and nightclubs like Duckie.

Do you focus on shadow puppetry or do you with dally with marionettes and more too?
I mainly work with the shadows because it's just drawing with a knife which I like, but I'm beginning to move into 3D puppets and starting now to make some puppet animation stop motion films so stay tuned for them.

How have your performances developed throughout your career?
As I've gained confidence in myself the shows have got longer, Flyboy at the Barbican is made up of lots of short pieces, five minute songs and longer fifteen minute shadow-operas. For Beauty and the Beast at the National Theatre I created a shadow scene that stretched across six metres of paper, showing Beauty running through the forest to save Beast, which I really enjoyed.

Where do you feel your work has been best showcased?
I was particularly ecstatic a couple of years ago when I got to sing and perform one of my shows with a band that included Ralph Carney and Michael Blair, two musicians who have been in Tom Waits' band over the years, it was so amazing having them add their sounds to my work. 

What are your hopes and ambitions for 2011?
I'm writing a rock-opera concept album about mutant spiders that will hopefully be a cross between Tommy-meets-War of the Worlds-meets-Bat out of Hell-meets-The Man from God knows Where.

Matthew's work can be seen at the Barbican, on the stage of the Cottesloe at The National and you can listen to his magical melodiousness on his new album, 'Noah's Ark'. 

Sean Baker

Published by i-D Online

12:26 GMT 22/12/10

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