Goldilocks, Automata, Toy Theatre and Shadows!

If you’ve been wondering about my going quiet for some time.  The reason once again is that I have been very busy.

Having an audition for their production of “Goldilocks” at last gave me an excuse to visit the prestigious “Little Angel Theatre” in London.

I was unprepared for how small the building was, despite its name.  Had I not asked directions from a lady outside a cafe, I would not have expected to find a world famous puppet theatre down a very narrow alleyway that certainly didn’t look like a way through.

The building is surrounded by delightful gardens that were full of very tame squirrels and birds when I went for a little exploration outside.

Having arrived extremely early due to the awkward train times, (I got up at 5.00am for a 6.30am train from Lancaster), I was very thoughtfully made a cup of tea and was shown all around the theatre by Alex, the friendly “Front of House” manager.  His description of his role included that of “Bouncer” of undesirables from the building as well as the very worthy aim of taking the money off customers so that great art can continue to be made.

I was shown the backstage including the unique double marionette bridge for operating long string marionettes.  It was pointed out to me that those puppeteers on the front bridge, (downstage) would be operating their marionettes backwards, (the puppet facing them) and those on the back bridge, (upstage) would be operating them forwards, (the puppet facing away from them).  Just the thought of this gave me a great deal of respect for the marionettists who presumably were able to move from one to the other in the course of a show.

As a large number of puppets were being brought out of the cellar, (to be restrung and have costumes mended etc.) this meant that I was able to see right down into the cellar from the backstage area and also from the auditorium.  A lot of the puppets were being taken to be exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum, (a very good place to visit if you’re interested in the history of puppets and toy theatre).  I was most envious of the fact that they had enough storage space to keep all of the puppets from past productions, as I am always struggling to find room for my ever increasing puppet collection.

A lot of different events have been and will be commemorating the fact that The Little Angel Theatre is celebrating its 50th Anniversary.  One of the most exciting is the first ever production staged at the theatre, (“The Wild Night of the Witches) is being re-mounted with the original 50 year old marionettes, (I got a look at some of these backstage too).  A group of trainees who have been working with Ronnie Le Drew, (one of the leading marionette makers and performers in the country) will be having the opportunity to perform this historic show in September, (9th – 11th).

I also got to see the workshop, which was filled excitingly with various puppets and parts of puppets in various stages of completion.  One wall had a row of disembodied wooden puppet legs, which put me in mind of a surrealist can-can line-up.  I also spotted a genuine Sicilian rod puppet lurking in a corner.  It also contained a mock-up of the “Caliban” puppet from the R.S.C./Little Angel collaborative piece, “The Magician’s Daughter” based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”.  I had been following the R.S.C.’s updates on this production through Twitter.  The actual puppet was probably tucked away in a corner of a cavernous basement at the R.S.C. somewhere.  I had been particularly interested in that production because Rough Magic Theatre’s first show was also a version of “The Tempest” with puppets, live action and live music.

There were many other exciting things to be seen and I was actually shown round twice, as I went round with the other auditionees as well, when they arrived.  I kept spotting more and more puppets where ever I looked.  I also spotted some automata, some of which were used in past productions.  Another was on display to amuse the visitors and depicted the “Frog Prince” story.  It unfortunately was not fully operational on my visit, but I encountered the man who had made it, (Jan Zalud) and he recommended me to look into the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre if I was interested in automata.  The video above is of one of their exhibitions.  He also gave me a link to his own site.

I have also been slogging on with the “Edward Lear’s Nonsense” Shadow puppets, for Skipton Puppet Festival, (24th Sept) but there is a lot still to do.  I have successfully learned the tune I composed now though.

Tim and I have also been invited to visit Ted & Enid Hawkins in Blackpool on Sunday.  We met them at the Vischmarkt Papierentheater Festival, but never got to see each other’s shows.  We will be doing our “Hansel & Gretel” for them, and they shall do their pop-up “Treasure Island” for us.  We have also been promised a look at Ted’s Toy Theatre den, with lots of exciting “stuff” therein!  I shall be taking photos and will let you know all about it afterwards.  All the best till then!


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