Puppetry is coming out of the booth, if the 14th annual Puppet and Animation Festival - the largest in the British Isles - is anything to go by. This year's festival (March 19 to April 13), which is administered through the Netherbow Arts Centre in Edinburgh, is spreading its wings to present puppetry of all kinds from Dunbar to Paisley and from St Andrews to Melrose.
Traditional booth puppetry (ie hand puppets) can be seen alongside shadow and rod puppets, marionettes, life-size puppets and open-stage puppetry which involves actors and puppets interacting on the same stage.
There will be around 100 activities happening over the three weeks, similar in size to last year's festival which attracted an overall audience of some 10,000 people.
Perennial favourites like Maisie from Morningside and Greyfriars Bobby can be caught along with Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, Baba Yaga and tales from Hans Christian Andersen.
"This strong and varied input from children's literature complements the breadth of puppetry styles we have," says festival director Stewart Aitken. "The festival is pro-active in developing the quality of puppetry rather than just booking shows for people to see."
Promoting the principle that puppetry is an art form anyone can get involved in, the festival also provides workshops where children of various ages can try their hand at making puppets, and explore the legends of the Greeks and the Vikings.
"This festival gives the opportunity to participate and not just watch, " says Aitken, adding "and it's not just for children".
While the festival naturally attracts a lot of nursery and play scheme bookings, as well as primary schools where the Easter holidays have not intervened, it is also presenting a day school on Puppetry and Physical Theatre for 16-year-olds and over, and is premiering an adult puppet show, Life and Death in Milton Keynes. Not suitable for children, this production explores what happens when a "childlike show" goes horribly wrong . . .
There is experimental puppetry (which includes the use of objects, masks and dance) with live music, a bar and impromptu cabaret spots; and there is a Six of the Best Scottish showcase, recommended for teachers and educationists (March 20), which includes excerpts from shows about environmental issues, smoking and a puppet adaptation of Iain Crichton Smith's classic story of the Clearances, Consider the Lilies.
Chief among the professional puppeteers are Norwich Puppet Theatre, whose show Paper Tiger - an imaginary journey into a world of paper full of fantastic creatures - is noted, says Aitken, for its "quality and intensity".
The film animation part of the festival is centred in the MacRobert Arts Centre in Stirling, where The Wallace and Gromit Trilogy is being shown along with James and the Giant Peach and a new print of Watership Down. More adventurously, there are films from central and eastern Europe, a day dedicated to the showing of new British animation and a peppering of Gothic tales from Edgar Allan Poe.
With a package of funding from local councils and the Scottish Arts Council, Aitken declares himself "fair chuffed" that the festival has for the first time found its way into Fife, the Borders, Paisley and South Lanarkshire. "Puppetry is regarded more highly in Europe and the Far East, but I feel this festival is demonstrating the wealth, depth and experimental edge of puppetry and animation. It's an art form going from strength to strength," he says.
Ticket prices range from Pounds 1.50 to Pounds 3.50, with school and group booking deals available. Further details from Netherbow Arts Centre, tel: 0131 556 9579