The last time we visited Upfront Puppet Theatre we were there to watch their production of Aladdin and Anthony was 2 year old and Miranda was just a little baby. You can read about our previous visit when we watched “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” HERE.
The reason we didn’t have a post about that production was that our viewing of that was far more disrupted. I had hoped, with Anthony being 2, that he would manage to make it through the entire “Aladdin” show without having to be removed from the auditorium but instead of being better, it was worse. He had reached the age where he had to ask lots of questions about everything that was going on, AT THE TOP OF HIS VOICE. He was also finding it a bit scary too I think as it started off with the evil magician and a bit of stage pyrotechnics going on (if I remember rightly) and going into the scary cave etc. We reluctantly reached the decision for Tim to remove him as he was stopping the rest of the audience from hearing the voiceover recording of the characters and story. I did stay in to watch the rest with Miranda, but as I was trying to keep her occupied I did not feel like I had a good enough quality viewing of the show to write a proper review of it.
This time Anthony was 4 and Miranda was 2 and a half. I had a little word with her the night before the show. I told her that we were going to see a Puppet Show and that we would have to be nice and quiet so that everyone could hear what was going on and that if she made too much noise she would have to be taken out so that everyone could hear the story properly. She seemed to take this very much to heart and when I asked if she thought she could be nice and quiet during the show she said “Yes” very solemnly and said that she would be very quiet.
The next day when we were getting ready to go out she remembered what I had said without me mentioning it and said again that she was not going to make a noise and would be very quiet during the Puppet Show. I told them it was going to be “Jack and the Beanstalk” and asked if they remembered the story from when they did it at nursery, (they had made pictures of the Beanstalk with little cotton wool clouds and a cut out giant’s castle etc.) and Anthony had also brought home a story book with some little puppets in to act out the story. They had also learned what the giant said and had been chanting it to each other in the car on the day they had learned about it, so I reminded them of this.
I also told them that we would be having lunch at Upfront’s excellent vegetarian cafe before we so the show so they wouldn’t be disappointed at not seeing the show right away. They were still chomping at the bit to see the show, even though I had warned them in advance that we were eating first, and were asking when they would see the show; before, during and after the food. They examined the pictures on the leaflets attached to our table number with great interest which showed Jack, his cow and the Giant.
I wasn’t sure quite how long before the performance time we should be waiting outside to go in but didn’t want to leave it too late and so were waiting at 15 minutes before. Not many people were around and I was a bit concerned, then Anthony and Miranda made friends with a girl who had a hummingbird puppet from the shop and were comparing the different types of stones in the gravel outside (we had been asked to wait outside at the back of the theatre to avoid overcrowding in the foyer). We almost had a meltdown when Miranda did not want to give the hummingbird puppet back to the girl but promised her that we would visit the shop and find puppet that she would like after the show, (I had been intending to this anyway – it wasn’t just to keep her quiet).
Just as it was time for the show lots more people turned up and we started to go in. The seating was all socially distanced and the lady who was seating us was concerned that our teeny tiny children might not be able to see and moved our seats sideways a bit, (found out after it was Sarah from Noisy Oyster). So, it was a good while after the start time when we were all in and two blocks of seating in front of us were still conspicuously empty.
John Parkinson came out front and explained that we were still waiting for some people to arrive and that they had phoned explaining they were stuck in traffic and that it was so awful for people when they were trying their best to get to a show like this in time. To keep us entertained he found some puppets that I had noticed in a storage area at the side of the auditorium and gave us a little impromptu puppetry demonstration, (I think they were puppets from Stanelli’s Super Circus which I reviewed in another previous blog post – CLICK HERE to read). The first puppet was a dissecting skeleton marionette. If you are not familiar these were/and are very popular type of cabaret type* trick marionette, (*performed on shorter strings with the puppeteer on full view). The second was a “mystery” puppet, (in that they were stored in bags to stop the strings tangling and John had forgotten which one it was!) which turned out to be a violinist who would get so caught up in his violin playing that his trousers would fall down!
Eventually it was decided that we would have to start without the delayed audience members and we were upgraded to some seats right at the front, mostly because of their concern that our teeny tiny children would be able to see properly I think!
When the show was about to start Miranda spent some time saying “shhh!” over and over quietly, (to make sure the rest of us were behaving properly I think) and after that settled down and was quiet throughout the first half. Anthony sat beautifully still and attentive without a word as well, (I was very relieved after my previous experiences with him at the Puppet Theatre, but I had been fairly confident that Anthony was old enough to cope with it now).
We then had a small tub of yummy Lakeland ice cream each at the interval and after that watched the second half of the show. Miranda was still eating hers when the show started again and was not entirely successful at getting all of the ice-cream into her mouth in the dark, but did pretty well over-all.
In the second half (I think it was at the moment when the Giant spots Jack and said he was coming to get him) came the moment I had been worrying about…Anthony shouted out “Oh NO!!” and I feared we would have a meltdown from Anthony due to his concern for Jack. We reassured him that everything would come out well for Jack in the end and I think the fact that Anthony already knew the story may have helped here.
We have been struggling with Anthony and watching films or television with any kind of dramatic suspense, (Miranda has been fine with it and often says “don’t worry, Anthony” to him). Once he has seen something already he is generally fine but otherwise can go into full on trauma saying “Oh No! What’s going to happen?” and shaking and wailing etc. Examples of traumatic content include the “Shaun the Sheep Movie” and the “Thunderbirds are Go” CITV series. Even Mr. Tumble putting his foot in a bucket of water for washing the car (CBeebies “Something Special”) has been upsetting for him whereas Miranda seems to understand slapstick humour far better.
Books are not a problem and he loves watching the “Thunderbirds” episodes over and over now but is largely anti watching fiction films. His favourite thing is watching factory videos about how Jelly Beans etc. are made and other non-fiction content about how things work like “Maddie’s Do You Know” from CBeebies. We intend to persevere, however, as otherwise he will never get used to watching fiction stories on TV and film and he is doing better with it generally speaking as this trip to the theatre shows.
But, back to the “Jack and the Beanstalk” show itself. Highlights of the show for me were the staging and special effects (which John always makes very special) Jack’s little dog and Daisy the dancing cow.
We particularly enjoyed the lighting and the scenery which moved smoothly to one side to show different locations and the clever way they showed Jack climbing the beanstalk. They not only had Jack move up the beanstalk but also had the scenery move downwards to show his progress up away from his house and above the clouds to where the Giant’s castle was. We also had smoke effects for Jack moving into the clouds as well, (Anthony was very impressed with this and wanted to know how it worked, of course).
Another lovely dramatic touch was the pyrotechnics accompanying the dramatic transformation of the Fairy Godmother puppet. It was one of those trick marionettes that turns upside down to reveal a costume change and was, in my opinion, a very appropriate dramatic use for such a puppet.
It was a smaller and more intimate stage (similar in size to the one that John started out with in the converted barn originally, according to John) than the one used for the performances we had seen at Upfront previously but I felt the smaller scale of the show and smaller number of puppets meant that the puppeteers were a bit less stretched perhaps and I felt like the quality of the puppeteering was particularly good, (I found out at the end that as well as John and Elaine Parkinson; Nik Palmer and Sarah Rowland-Barker of Noisy Oyster were also puppeteering on the show).
The only small issue I spotted was a moment when I think the dog puppet must have got tangled or stuck somehow, but I imagine that it would be an exceptionally rare marionette performance that would be completed without technical hitches of any sort. I have had performances where some of my shadow puppets have got stuck with their legs in a funny position or some such but you just have to carry on and hope the audience don’t notice or try to fix it as you are going along. This I guess is one of the joys of live performance. If you are a performer or puppeteer, perhaps you would like to share an example of how you have coped with technical difficulties/things going wrong in your performances in the comments section below, or you could share something you have seen as an audience member!