Larry Rickard can be seen in Yonderland as Scribe Elder Ho-Tan, Wizard Bradley, Gallant and many other characters...
How did Yonderland come about?
The six of us got on so well filming Horrible Histories that we decided to do something else together. We wanted to do something that was multi-character because we enjoy raiding the dressing-up box and doing silly voices, and we were hooked early on by the idea of doing something set in the fantasy world with puppets. Jim Henson's Labyrinth and those types of films were a real touchstone for us growing up.
Was it hard to pitch it?
It wasn't actually. Yonderland tied in with the type of show that Sky was looking for, so after we'd done some initial development with Working Title the stars aligned quite quickly. Up until that point, trying to sell fantasy shows for TV had become tricky because they can be expensive, but then again, they said that about historical comedy.
I think people are more willing to believe it's possible, if a little difficult. If you get the right team who have the right attitude, it makes up for the extra million pounds you could always do with. You go, it's fine, we'll make it work, and that's the thing that money can't buy. There's not as much of that around as you'd like in the TV world, but we got very lucky with Sky and the production company.
What was it like acting alongside puppets?
Our puppeteers were fantastic and relished a challenge. They got the tone of the show and were happy to play around and improvise with us. Filming with puppets just has certain logistical limitations because you've always got to hide the puppeteers. Things we thought were going to be hugely difficult, like a puppet juggling, were fine, but getting a puppet to run across the forest? Not so much. You've got to show its legs, you've got to get it to move, you've got to put a puppeteer on a trolley, which then means you've got to clear the floor so the trolley can run...
It must have been a pretty strenuous shoot for the puppeteers?
We had a really great couple of weeks on the shoot, but then one puppeteer's knee gave out, a guy who had been in the business since the early 80s. There is an awful lot of wear and tear because you're constantly being contorted into strange positions, looking after the technical side of puppetry, the acting, and then you've got to be on a trolley physically making the puppet move across the set. They're essentially doing the job of three people.
I'm all for championing the puppeteers. Pete Coogan, who produced the puppets for the series, had a great anecdote about puppets when he was working on a Muppets movie. Jim Henson and one of the other puppeteers were performing some ridiculous scene and the guy shook his head and said how difficult it was, Jim said "yes, but if it was easy then everyone would do it" and the puppeteer replied "if it was any more difficult, then no-one would". That hits it on the head: puppeteering is just on the edge of impossible.
Yonderland feels quite innocent, like a throwback to the 80s, especially with its emphasis on traditional effects...
Since the advent of CGI, there is a temptation to think that's just how you do everything, that doing physical effects is the poor man's option. Because you can make everything photo-realistic these days, it kind of takes the joy out of it. Even if it's brilliant CGI, you still know it's CGI. You might go, 'that's impressive', but you know it's not there, it's not tangible, and it's the same with comedy. I'd much rather have the version where you go, 'OK, I can tell that's a hand inside a rubber puppet, but at the end of the arm is a man doing a very funny voice, a good performer'.