Clearly a man with a passion, the late Eugene Lambert – known as the father of Irish puppetry – is said to have made his first puppet at the age of eight, and to have learned to be an accomplished ventriloquist by the time he hit his early teens. He later developed his talent into a famous ventriloquist act with his puppet Finnegan, for whom Lambert is said to have somehow been able to secure a driver’s licence in 1963.
Becoming a well-known figure on the Irish vaudeville performance scene, Lambert and Finnegan first toured Ireland and the UK, and later the USA, Japan and Australia, advertising the Irish Tourist Board. Lambert also played a character called O’Brien on the much-loved Irish children’s TV series Wanderly Wagon, and he and members of his family supplied puppets and acted as puppeteers and ventriloquists for some of the animal characters.
After visiting The Harlequin Puppet Theatre that was built in Wales in 1958, and Prague’s International Puppet Festival, Eugene and his wife Mai decided to open their own Irish outfit, and so The Lambert Puppet Theatre in the south Dublin suburb of Monkstown was born in 1972. During the late 1970s and 1980s, the theatre produced the epochal children’s TV programme of the time called Bosco.
The Lambert family are said to have all been involved in the family business in some capacity at one point, in departments from design and lighting to puppetry and voice acting. The red haired puppet Bosco was voiced by two of Eugene’s daughters, Miriam and Paula, at different times. Miriam Lambert now has her own puppet company, based in Kilkenny, while her brother continues to run the business their parents established.
During the summer of 2015, The Lambert Puppet Theatre was the victim of an arson attack that resulted in more than €150,000 worth of damage. Luckily, it was able to re-open months later, just in time for a Christmas performance of Aladdin. Today, it remains Ireland’s only purpose-built puppet theatre, presenting family performances most weekends of the year.