Meet Mavis – the puppet hoping to put Suffolk on the map
- Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND
For many, puppetry is an art form best reserved for children – but not for Laura Bacon.
Haverhill born and raised, the professional puppeteer and character actor has already had a taste of the limelight, after making it all the way to the semi-finals on Britain’s Got Talent in 2014 with her puppet Patsy May.
Laura, who was trained at the Sesame Workshop, has since gone on to work for The Jim Henson Company, puppeteering on Star Wars and Netflix series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.
But it’s her puppet Mavis that she is hoping will help make a name for Suffolk.
Over the past four years, Laura has been performing and creating content with her trusty fox puppet who speaks in an authentic Suffolk dialect. Inspired by her grandparents, she explains why she created the puppet.
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“My grandparents were a huge influence to me, and when I was younger, I’d do puppet shows behind their sofas. They were from Suffolk, and had really strong accents – but I’d never really picked up on it as a kid. After they passed away, I found myself saying their catchphrases, and my sister eventually suggested that I get one of my puppets and start doing a routine with a Suffolk puppet.
“The fact Mavis is a fox is purely coincidental, as it was the only puppet I had. I put some glasses on her, as well as a headscarf and gilet, and it’s just developed from there really.”
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Ever since, Laura and Mavis have been going around Suffolk, filming historical videos in various towns in the region.
“The first video I did was on the history of the lost railway of Haverhill, and took Mavis on location in Sturmer Arches. I just did it for fun, really.”
Other videos Laura and Mavis have created include one on the history of Lavenham, a look at Dunwich’s lost city, a tour around Snape Maltings and the history of Haverhill's lost pubs.
It wasn’t long before Laura and Mavis’s Youtube channel was spotted by BBC Radio Suffolk, who then invited the duo on for a regular weekly slot just before lockdown took effect.
“Georgy Jamieson asked me to come on with Mavis, and we really hit it off. She then asked me to do a skit around what Mavis would make of the virus.
"It originally started as a one-off, but then we eventually did about 30 of these four-to-five minute skits, reflecting on what life was like during the pandemic, but as if it was an old person during the war.”
Touching on the events surrounding coronavirus, Mavis and Laura hit the airwaves every week, showcasing that true, authentic Suffolk accent that so many listeners have come to know and love.
Inevitably, it wasn’t long before Mavis and Laura had an ever-growing legion of fans.
“There was one man who hadn’t spoken to his mum in years, as they’d had a bit of rift. But they both started listening to Mavis and they’ve since reconciled thanks to their love of her,” Laura recalls.
“They now talk every Saturday after Mavis has been on, and they’ll have a laugh. I thought that was so touching. Mavis also received fan mail at Christmas from two children.”
Laura firmly believes the key to Mavis’ newfound success is her widespread appeal that spans both younger and older generations.
“Old people love her as they relate to her, but little kids love her as she’s got a soft, soothing voice - whereas most puppets are larger than life and in your face, and that can be a bit much for people. I’m trying to branch away from that stigma that puppets are just for kids, because adults love them too. Just look at The Muppets and Avenue Q.
“I also don’t think there’s been a character with a Suffolk accent. The Suffolk accent is dying out, and I want to get it out there. When I watched The Dig recently, and heard Ralph Fiennes do a brilliant accent, it really hit home. I thought to myself ‘Wow, it’s amazing hearing our accent on screen and in the media.’ That’s why I feel it’s important to get Mavis out there.”
With Laura bringing the people of Suffolk together through the art of puppetry – how does she manage to nail such an authentic accent on demand every time?
“It’s funny because I couldn’t do the accent when my grandparents were around, so in a way, I think it’s passed down to me. It could’ve been lying dormant.”
As lockdown restrictions look set to ease over the upcoming months – Laura hopes to get Mavis back on the road, and showcase the joys of the Suffolk accent to a wider audience.
“I’d love to take her to a castle to do another historical video, as well as to Sutton Hoo. Once lockdown has lifted however, I’d like to do more live shows with her, as well as get her on TV as an extra.”
Back in 2019, Laura and Mavis took to the stage at Haverhill Arts Centre, where Mavis spoke about the history of the town and Suffolk to a sold-out audience.
“We sold about 100 tickets, and it was quite fun. We had some jokes, videos and songs thrown in, too. I really enjoy history, so once lockdown is over, I love the idea of going around Suffolk towns and doing more historical shows with Mavis. If you talk about the history of the town you’re in, the audience loves it.
“Ultimately, I just want to get Suffolk on the map, really. It’s sandwiched between Norfolk and Essex, and no one really knows the dialect. People try to do it, but they end up doing a West Country accent, and it drives me mad. Even people from Suffolk who don’t have the accent will do it wrong, so we need to bring it back and make it known.
“I still perform with Patsy May - but Mavis is a lot more personal and means so much more to me.”
To find out more about Mavis and her adventures, follow her on Twitter.