Toby Froud Returns to the Labyrinth

By William Todd-Jones

 

1985, Stage 7, Elstree Studios, London, England

A 12-month-old Toby, in his well-known red and white striped romper suit crawls along a suspended walkway 15ft off the studio floor where his mother Wendy Froud, the film's director Jim Henson and The Goblin King David Bowie watch nervously. They are engaged in filming the climax/denouement of the now cult film, Labyrinth. He wears a thin safety harness beneath the suit, attached to which is a cable, held by an unseen puppeteer, called Todd.

The clock rolls 22 years forward. 2007, same place!

An older Toby is 15 feet in the air above that very studio floor, but this time it is he who is the unseen puppeteer.

The reason?

The flamboyant band The Scissor Sisters have been asked to perform the hit, "I Don't Feel Like Dancing" to open the lavish ceremony, hosted by the very extravert Russel Brand. Some of the region's best artistic talent helped create an extraordinary puppeteer event which brought the audience to their dancing feet.

William Todd-Jones - Todd for short - who helped bring a similar production to life for the New York band at the 2005 event, was joined last night by his daughter Lillian, 17, and family friend Toby Froud, 22.

Last nights show for the trio, who all live on the edge of Dartmoor, saw them and a group of over 20 puppeteers and 14 dancers perform in front of a studio audience of 6,000 people and a live television audience of millions.

Toby 1 Toby 2

Toby, who appeared in the fantasy film Labyrinth as an 18-month-old child, said: "It went really well. It's been an absolutely great experience to be surrounded by so many top puppeteers doing this full on performance. The audience loved it... and so did we."

Todd originally got involved in the Brits in 2005 because singer Jake Shears wanted to use some of the late Muppet creator Jim Henson's creativity for the show.

Todd had worked with Jim Henson, himself a great lover of Dartmoor, on several of the Muppet movies, including Labyrinth, starring David Bowie.

During the 2005 performance Todd and two other performers controlled a large pink "Mama Bird" while the two singers - Shears and Ana Matronic - hatched from two golden eggs alongside it at the start of the four-minute performance of their hit "Take Your Mama."

Todd, 47, was asked to join this year's brilliant craziness just a month ago.

Last night's four minute and 12 second performance was choreographed by Mark Wilson and produced by Baker Coogan Productions, both of which have a long history with the Muppets.

Todd was the principle performer for Shears' puppet legs while Lillian and Toby, puppeteered the legs behind drummer Paddy Boom and keyboardist, JJ.

The staging of the song had everything to do with the title lyric "I Don't Feel Like Dancing." If you consider it, a singer known for his dancing proclaiming that he wants stop is very poignant. But Scissor Sisters want spectacle, so the concept became Jake surrounded by madly dancing legs. 

The band was fantastic. They got off the plane from Australia and came straight to rehearsals.

In this style of puppetry, it's critical that what you do is absolutely precise. It should look like lots of fun but to achieve the performance, everyone and everything has to be right as the slightest error will stand out.

For Toby and Lillian I felt it was time for them to step up in terms of doing something in front of a live TV audience. They were in no way frightened, but had a determination to make it perfect.

The 40 hours of rehearsals, including 20 hours with the band, ensured last night's performance went, as hoped, perfectly.

Lillian, who helped out backstage to create some of the features of the last Scissor Sisters Brits performance two years ago, was delighted to finally be part of the onstage event.

She added: "My homework was to learn dance steps while listening to live bands go through their sets... The Killers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Corrine Bailey Ray and Amy Winehouse, not bad!"

For more on William Todd Jones, please visit,web.me.com/toddamos/William_Todd-Jones. For more about Scissor Sisters, please visit, www.scissorsisters.com.