Saved events

Digital Programme: Ambergris (MimeLondon)

A person with a large nose as a head sits at a table that is filled with perfume bottles.

Find out more about the production and the creative team behind it in our digital programme. 


Welcome to the Barbican and thank you for joining us for our new season. To mark the start of a new year, we look back and also celebrate new beginnings. 

For over twenty years, we have presented breathtaking and extraordinary shows in collaboration with the ground-breaking London International Mime Festival. The festival has now ended but we’re delighted to be working again with Helen Lannaghan and Joseph Seelig, the festival’s directors, as they find new ways for us to connect audiences with companies across the world who specialise in visual storytelling. We are delighted to present four exciting international productions in The Pit between 23 January and 17 February, as part of MimeLondon (the new season in which Helen and Joseph will curate an enticing programme in collaboration with several partner venues).

This year, we welcome back two French companies. Les Antliaclastes’ Ambergris is a darkly comic adaptation of Pinocchio set in the belly of a whale and told through a mesmerising blend of puppetry, music and machines. Next, the delightful duo Stereoptik return with a new mini-spectacle, Antechamber, a transformative love story created live on stage through sketching, painting, music and film. 

This is followed by two companies making their Barbican debuts this year. From Spain, El Patio Teatro use hand-crafted anatomical objects to unravel the mysteries of what makes us human, in Entrañas (or, as we might say, Insides!) Finally, award-winning experimental American theatre-makers Phil Soltanoff and Steven Wendt invite us into a world of wonder with This & That, a playground of live performance mixing abstract video projection, music and enchanting hand shadow puppetry.

We hope you enjoy your visit, whether you are choosing just one show or coming back for more than one of these intricate and spellbinding contemporary performances.

Toni Racklin, Barbican Head of Theatre & Dance


an alchemical puppet operetta
by Patrick Sims

Director, scenography and puppets Patrick Sims
Masks and puppets Joséphine Biereye
Costumes Camille Lamy
Set construction and mechanics Richard Penny and Nicolas Hubert
Sound creation and design Karine Dumont
Lighting creation Sophie Barraud and Jean Grison
Stage manager Florent Klein

Karine Dumont
Patrick Sims
Nicolas Hubert
Richard Penny


Two puppets, one a creature and one a ship, appear to be falling into a stage. The stage looks like the inside of a circus tent, dark red and yellow in colour.

The poetic power of ambergris

Ambergris is the story of Pinocchio in the belly of the whale.

Pinocchio is a classic story about transformation. Nowhere is this more evident than in the chapter where Pinocchio finds himself in the belly of the whale, a pivotal moment in which the puppet is confronted with his maker and his own essence. It is inside the belly of this great whale that the puppet begins his process of individuation before being spat out again into the world as a real boy.

Ambergris (æmbəʳgriːs) is formed from a secretion of the bile duct in the intestines of the sperm whale, and can be found floating on the sea or washed up on the coast. It is sometimes found in the abdomens of dead sperm whales. Because the beaks of giant squids have been discovered within lumps of ambergris, scientists have theorised that the substance is produced by the whale’s gastrointestinal tract to ease the passage of hard, sharp objects that it may have eaten. The sperm whale usually vomits these, but if one travels further down the gut, it will be covered in ambergris, which smells like nothing else on this earth.

A bizarre digestive by-product, ambergris is highly sought after by perfumers for its key ingredient that makes sophisticated scents linger on the skin. Ambergris has an ability to transform a perfume through some sort of synergy. It has fixative powers, helping the perfume, or any object scented by it, such as clothing, retain the scent for years. In a perfume, it’s not just the scent of the ambergris, it’s the ability of the ambergris to ‘anchor’ all of the other scents.

When this rare secretion produced only by sperm whales is expelled at sea, it floats on ocean currents for years, slowly transforming, before it sometimes washes ashore looking like a nondescript waxy pebble. Despite being one of the world’s most expensive substances (its value is nearly that of gold and has at times in history been triple), ambergris is also one of the world’s least known. It can appear almost anywhere but is found so rarely, it might as well appear nowhere.

Ambergris has a magical ability to bind disparate smells harmoniously. It is an odour that is inexplicable to anything else.

Ambergris tells the tale about the production of this rare substance through a blending together of great literary characters, all of whom have been swallowed by a whale.

Appearing in the tale are:

  • Jonah, the biblical character who was swallowed by a whale for his disobedience, then spat out again thanks to his re-found faith.
  • Pinocchio, who threw himself into the mouth of the whale in search of his maker, and upon being reunited with his father, brewed a sneezing powder and was also ejected from the beast.
  • Captain Ahab who, in his obsessive hunt for Moby Dick, is taken under by the mythical monster, refusing to let go.

We find these three characters together in a kind of rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub, the prophet, the puppet, the pirate whale hunter. Fused together, floating on the sea in a lump of ambergris.

Ambergris is set inside a giant perfume laboratory. Behind the doors is a charlatan perfumer who is obsessed with finding the perfect lump of ambergris in order to complete his great olfactory masterpiece.

Ambergris charts the process of a base substance into its purest form; from excrement to gold, whilst following the psychological purification of our puppet hero.

Patrick Sims, director

Related events

Thu 25 January
Post-show talk (BSL-interpreted)

Hosted by Joseph Seelig and BSL-interpreted by Anna Kitson. Free to same-day ticket holders.

Tue 13 February
Members event: Puppets in Theatre – Bringing New Life to the Stage

Discover more about the imaginative art of puppetry at this MimeLondon in-conversation event with Basil Twist and Phelim McDermott, facilitated by Cheryl Henson. Free for Members.

A large puppet person with a beard, wearing a long black coat and a top hat, sits down on stage with a small wooden Pinocchio puppet.


Patrick Sims
Director, scenography and puppets

Patrick Sims grew up in a rural farming community in Vermont. He studied Cinema and Theatre Direction at Middlebury College before pursuing postgraduate studies at the Samuel Beckett School of Theatre at Trinity College Dublin. His thesis was titled ‘The Pataphysics of the Puppet; Alfred Jarry and the Inhuman Performer’. Since the early 2000s he has continued his performance research and practice blending particularly the use of masks, puppets and machines – often in wordless, sonically driven narratives. As a writer, director, composer, teacher, scenographer and puppet-maker, Patrick Sims heads the French company Les Antliaclastes, working extensively in theatre and puppet programmes, universities and festivals worldwide.

Richard Penny
Set construction and mechanics

Richard Penny studied Theatre Design at Croydon College, and Dramatic Arts at Bretton Hall, University of Leeds. After working on festivals and creative projects in Portugal, he met Patrick Sims in Barcelona and started making puppet shows with him. He has continued to do so for nearly 20 years.

Karine Dumont
Sound creation and design

Karine Dumont is a French musician, composer and sound designer, working mostly for performing arts. She studied French literature, electroacoustic composition and sound technique. Her work focuses mainly on experimental music and dramaturgy of sound. She met Patrick Sims through Les Antliaclastes’ production of Waltz of the Hommelettes, and also performs in Ambergris and Batrachomyomachia.

Nicolas Hubert
Set construction and mechanics

Nicolas Hubert has primarily worked in the arts as a set and prop maker with a special interest in stage machinery since 2005. He studied fine art, theatre and literature before honing his craft with Theatre du Lamparo touring in a circus tent, making sets and props for scenographers including Goury and theatre companies such as Cie Grand Tigre (formally known as Cie Grand Théâtre). He met Les Antliaclastes in 2010, having viewed their beautiful show Hilum and has worked on many projects with them since. He is sometimes engaged for handmade projects and builds, which is always exciting!

Les Antliaclastes
Les Antliaclastes are a puppet theatre company based in Hérisson, France. The company is led by Patrick Sims, founder and former creative director of Buchinger’s Boot Marionettes. Les Antliaclastes use a unique blend of puppetry techniques and styles, masks, machines and original organic soundtracks. The company’s primarily wordless performance style moves fluidly through countless surprises and often violently contrasting images.

MimeLondon is a new curatorial project created by Helen Lannaghan and Joseph Seelig, directors of London International Mime Festival (LIMF), which ended in 2023 after five decades of award-winning success. MimeLondon will support occasional seasons of contemporary visual theatre, in collaboration with different partner venues.

For its first series in London, which runs from 12 January to 17 February 2024, the Barbican, the National Theatre, Sadler’s Wells and Shoreditch Town Hall are hosting eight productions new to London, the work of four overseas groups, and four UK-based companies co-commissioned by London International Mime Festival in its final year. A series of workshops organised in association with the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art (LAMDA) and Shoreditch Town Hall is taking place during the same period.

For the Barbican

Barbican Centre Board 
Tom Sleigh 
Deputy Chair 
Sir William Russell 
Deputy Chair 
Tobi Ruth Adebekun 

Board Members 
Randall Anderson, Munsur Ali, Stephen Bediako OBE, Farmida Bi CBE, Tijs Broeke, Zulum Elumogo, Wendy Mead OBE, Mark Page, Alpa Raja, Jens Riegelsberger, Jane Roscoe, Irem Yerdelen, Despina Tsatsas, Michael Asante MBE 

Clerk to the Board 
John Cater and Kate Doidge 

Barbican Centre Trust 
Farmida Bi CBE 
Vice Chair 
Robert Glick OBE 

Tom Bloxham MBE, Stephanie Camu, Tony Chambers, Cas Donald, David Kapur, Ann Kenrick, Kendall Langford, Sir William Russell, Tom Sleigh, Claire Spencer AM, Sian Westerman 

Chief Executive Officer 
Claire Spencer 
Director of Development 
Natasha Harris 
Director of People, Inclusion and Culture 
Ali Mirza 
Head of Finance & Business Administration 
Sarah Wall 
Acting Director for Buildings and Renewal 
Cornell Farrell 
Director of Commercial 
Jackie Boughton 
Senior Executive Assistant to Claire Spencer 
Jo Daly 

Theatre Department 
Head of Theatre and Dance 
Toni Racklin 
Senior Production Manager 
Simon Bourne 
Liz Eddy, Jill Shelley, Fiona Stewart 
Assistant Producers 
Saxon Mudge, Mali Siloko, Tom Titherington 
Production Managers 
Jamie Maisey, Lee Tasker 
Technical Managers 
Steve Daly, Jane Dickerson, Nik Kennedy, Martin Morgan, Stevie Porter 
Stage Managers 
Lucinda Hamlin, Charlotte Oliver 
Technical Supervisors 
James Breedon, Charlie Mann, Jamie Massey, Matt Nelson, Adam Parrott, Lawrence Sills, Chris Wilby 

Kendell Foster, David Kennard, Burcham Johnson, Bart Kuta, Christian Lyons, Josh Massey, Kieran Poynter, Fred Riding, Fede Spada, Matt Turnbull 
PA to Head of Theatre 
David Green 


Production Administrator 
Caroline Hall 
Production Assistant 
Michaela Harcegová 
Stage Door 
Julian Fox, aLbi Gravener 

Creative Collaboration and Learning 
Head of Creative Collaboration 
Karena Johnson 
Josie Dick 
Lauren Brown 
Assistant Producer 
Rikky Onefeli 
Assistant Producer  
Carmen Okome 

Marketing Department 
Head of Marketing 
Jackie Ellis 
Deputy Head of Marketing 
Ben Jefferies 
Senior Marketing Manager 
Kyle Bradshaw 
Marketing Assistant 
Olivia Brissett and Rebecca Moore 

Communications Department 
Head of Communications 
James Tringham 
Senior Communications Manager 
Ariane Oiticica 
Communications Manager 
Communications Assistant 
Sumayyah Sheikh 

Audience Experience 
Deputy Head of Audience Experience & Operations 
Sheree Miller 
Ticket Sales Managers 
Lucy Allen, Oliver Robinson, Ben Skinner, Jane Thomas 
Operations Managers 
Ben Raynor, Elizabeth Davies-Sadd, Samantha Teatheredge, Hayley Zwolinsk 
Operations Manager (Health & Safety) 
Mo Reideman 
Audience Event & Planning Manager 
Freda Pouflis 
Venue Managers 
Scott Davies, Tabitha Goble, Nicola Lake, Maria Pateli 
Assistant Venue Managers 
Rhiannon Brennan, Sam Hind, Bronagh Leneghan, Melissa Olcese, Daniel Young 
Crew Management 
Dave Magwood, Rob Magwood, James Towell 
Access and Licensing Manager 
Rebecca Oliver 
Security Operations Manager 
Naqash Sheikh 
Audience Experience Coordinator 
Ayelen Fananas 


With thanks...

The Barbican is London’s creative catalyst for arts, curiosity and enterprise. We spark creative possibilities and transformation for artists, audiences and communities – to inspire, connect, and provoke debate. 

We’re committed to making a difference locally, nationally and internationally by showcasing some of the most inspiring and visionary work by artists and communities. We’re not-for-profit. Each year we need to raise 60% of our income through fundraising, ticket sales, and commercial activities. Our supporters play a vital role in keeping our programme accessible to everyone, which includes our work with local schools; development opportunities for emerging creatives; and access to discounted and subsidised tickets. 

Barbican supporters enjoy behind the scenes access across the centre and see first-hand what their gift enables through enhanced priority booking, as well as access to tickets for sold-out performances and exclusive events. For more information please visit or [email protected]

With thanks... 

Founder and principal funder 
The City of London Corporation 

Major Supporters 
Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch) 
Kiran Nadar Museum of Art 
SHM Foundation 
The Terra Foundation for American Art 

Leading Supporters 
Trevor Fenwick and Jane Hindley 
Marcus Margulies 

Programme Supporters 
Goodman Gallery 
Romilly Walton Masters Award 
Jack Shainman Gallery 
The Rudge Shipley Charitable Trust 

Director’s Circle 
James and Louise Arnell 
Farmida Bi CBE 
Jo and Tom Bloxham MBE 
Philippe and Stephanie Camu 
Cas Donald 
Alex and Elena Gerko 
Trevor Fenwick and Jane Hindley 
Sian and Matthew Westerman 
SHM Foundation 
Sir Howard Panter and Dame Rosemary Squire 
Anonymous (1) 


Corporate Supporters 
Bank of America 
Bolt Burdon Kemp 
Google Arts & Culture 
Linklaters LLP 
Norton Rose Fulbright 
Osborne Clarke 
Pinsent Masons 
Searchlight Pictures 
Slaughter and May 
Standard Chartered 
Vestiaire Collective 

Trusts & Grantmakers 
Acción Cultural Española (AC/E)  
The African Arts Trust 
The Ampersand Foundation 
Art Fund 
Bagri Foundation 
CHK Foundation 
Cockayne – Grants for the Arts 
Company of Arts Scholars Charitable Trust  
Fluxus Art Projects 
Institut français du Royaume-Uni 
John S Cohen Foundation 
Helen Frankenthaler Foundation 
High Commission of Canada in The United Kingdom 
Korean Cultural Centre UK 
Kusuma Trust UK 
London Community Foundation 
Mactaggart Third Fund 
Maria Björnson Memorial Fund 
U.S. Embassy London 

We also want to thank the Barbican Patrons, members, and the many thousands who made a donation when purchasing tickets.  

The Barbican Centre Trust Ltd, registered charity no. 294282 


Presented by the Barbican in association with MimeLondon.

Co-produced by TJP de Strasbourg / CDN – Mini Théâtre de Payerne and Festival Mondial des Théâtres de Marionnettes de Charleville.

Supported by the Institut français du Royaume-Uni.

Les Antliaclastes are supported by DRAC Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Région Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Conseil Départemental de L’Allier.

The original production of Ambergris opened in November 2018 at the TJP at CDN in Strasbourg and at Le Mini-Théâtre in Payerne; followed by performances in September 2019 at the Festival Mondial des Théâtres de Marionnettes in Charleville.

Images by Jeff Lefranc.

A white logo with black text that reads 'Institut Francais Royaume-Uni'.