A Trip to the Puppet Circus

A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of visiting Upfront Puppet Theatre‘s new purpose built puppet theatre building near Penrith for the first time.  We had previously visited the Upfront Gallery for our first Puppeteers UK AGM when John Parkinson was in the process of planning the new building.  I believe John had previously staged his performances in some of the old farm buildings on the site.

We decided to go along and see the Stanelli’s Super Circus which had visited Skipton Puppet Festival in the past but we had unfortunately not managed to see it.  It is a rare treat to see a proper marionette show and so close by to where we live.

Upfront Puppet Theatre received heritage lottery funding to purchase Stan Parker’s trick circus marionette collection.  By purchasing the collection John was able to keep the puppets together as a performing troupe rather than being dispersed to private collections around the world and potentially not used for performance at all.

I have heard a lot about trick circus marionettes and even seen some before at the Victoria and Albert Museum including dissecting skeleton marionettes but this has been my first opportunity to actually see them in action.  Cabaret marionette performances used to be a popular and common place entertainment in this country and indeed Stanelli’s Super Circus toured with Stan Parker all over the world.  Not really needing a script, you can see how entertainment like this transcends language barriers and is of course equally enthralling for tiny children through to older audience members.  You can read all about the Stan Parker marionettes on their dedicated website if you CLICK HERE.

A gentleman sat next to myself kept commenting on how it was really very good wasn’t it?  He seemed to have a tone of surprise as if expecting a puppet show would hold few charms for himself as an adult.  It just goes to show what I have always said, that puppetry is a very flexible medium which is suitable for everyone not just for children.  There was also perhaps the implication in his comment that something designed to entertain children perhaps need not be of a high standard.  I find that a lot of people assume that something suitable for children need not be of high quality.

This of course is simply not true.  There are a huge number of theatre companies and television shows that are of an extremely high standard but do not receive the recognition they deserve in the theatre and arts world as a whole because they choose to make shows for children.  I believe that children deserve at least as high a standard of performance and artwork as any other age group and work for children can be far more imaginative and lacks a lot of the boundaries placed upon material that is supposed to be for adults.

Tim Austin (my husband and co-performer) and I were very fortunate to see backstage and have a lovely chat with John Parkinson about the new space, their plans for the future and also got to see what he called his “puppet cupboard” but which in reality was more of a puppet room.  It was considerably larger than Rough Magic Theatre’s puppet room but then I think John probably has more puppets to fit into it.

John has got (as well as many marionettes which he has made for their own shows) an enviable collection of wayang golek (Indonesian rod puppets) which I was very interested to see.

We hope that John’s new theatre building will go from strength to strength and constantly have the full houses that the quality of the work deserves.  So tell all your friends about the excellent new puppetry space we now have up in the Northwest and if you have not visited yet then do go and see a show as soon as you can!


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