Carnival Bentham 2015! & the 150th Anniversary of “Alice in Wonderland”

DSC00874I finally got around to hanging Gerald Townson’s prize winning photo of Tim Austin and myself (with Rough Magic Theatre’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party walkabout show and my “Edward Lear’s Nonsense” Shadow Puppet Suitcase Show at “Carnival Bentham by Bike” last year) on the wall above my desk.  A big thank-you to him for giving us this lovely framed certificate and for taking the photo in the first place.

In case you’re wondering, Tim is in the black & white top hat and I am in the Black and Yellow one.  To see the picture on the Craven Herald & Pioneer website CLICK HERE.

Carnival Bentham will be happening again this year on Saturday May 30th and the theme will be birds (and ducks in particular to compliment We Are Bentham‘s duck race event).

Rough Magic Theatre have been involved with this event every year since it started as My Last CARnival (an accompaniment to the My Last Car theatre show by 509 arts).  In its 2nd year it became CARnival Bentham and last year became CARnival Bentham by bike to link in with the Yorkshire based Tour de France and to celebrate the launch of Bentham as a “Passing Place” on the “Way of the Roses” cycle route.  Bentham officially “opened” a sculpture of a giant pair of bloomers (to commemorate the fact that Bentham’s silk mill created the silk for Queen Victoria’s bloomers).  So bloomers were one theme for the event and fish became another as part of the carnival “story” involving a white and red queen, (lancashire and yorkshire) who tried to catch all the fish in the river wenning.  If you want to hear the full story let me know.  Click HERE to see my previous blog posts where we created “Fred Fettler’s “Pony 3000″ – The Transport of the Future” show for My Last CARnival and click HERE to see the video and show page.

To see a picture of our “fishy” mad hatter’s tea party in the Westmorland Gazette CLICK HERE For pictures from the Carnival Bentham by bike facebook page taken by Peter Rollinson CLICK HERE.

Tim’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party with added fishing game to fit with theme


“Edward Lear’s Nonsense” show (with added bloomers to fit with the theme)

I have recently discovered that this year is the 150th Anniversary of “Alice in Wonderland” so this would be a perfect time to book our full length indoor “Alice in Wonderland” show, (CLICK HERE for info. and video).  Alternatively we have our Mad Hatter’s Tea Party walkabout show with either 1 or 2 performers, (you get Alice & the Mad Hatter too).  Another choice to fit with a Lewis Carroll theme would be our “Jabberwocky!” Shadow Suitcase walkabout show, (CLICK HERE for more info. and video) and not forgetting our giant parade puppet Jabberwocky which you can see on the banner at the top this blog’s home page.

We can also do accompanying “Alice in Wonderland” workshops/talks/question and answer sessions that look at the history of the book and Lewis Carroll.

I have also been nominated for the 5 day Puppetry Heroes challenge started by Ronnie Burkett on Facebook and I have done my first entry today.  Click HERE to go to the Facebook page


Glastonbury Continued…. More Pics & Reviews of Glasto shows

At long last (after getting my accounts out of the way) here is the promised second installment of Rough Magic Theatre’s Glastonbury adventures.

Here are some photo’s of our show “Clueless & Wuffles – The Case of the Missing Jewels” that the nice folks at Panic Circus took:


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The rest of this installment is my reviews of the other puppet shows that we saw.

1 – “A Kiss on the Apocalypse” by the Mutoid Waste Company

If you click on the link above you will get a general impression of the style of the company and what they were trying to achieve.  If, like me, you’ve never heard of the Mutoid Waste Company before, they are well worth checking out.

These guys create giant-sized puppets and puppet machines out of reclaimed scrap materials in a style akin to Mad Max and (futuristic, mutoid, cyborg like creations).  There seems to be a huge enthusiasm for all things steampunk at the moment but Joe Rush and the Mutoid Waste Co. started all of this long before it became fashionable.

Our experience as audience members was nothing like the slick, seamless video for the Paralympic closing ceremony from the link.  We saw the Thursday night showing which was supposed to start at 12 midnight but in fact started well over half an hour later.  Combine this with the fact that we had to arrive a little early in order to get a chance of being able to see anything and that we were stood up for the entire waiting and performance time and you can imagine it wasn’t a comfy experience.  But that was how it was for a lot of the events at Glastonbury, (lots and lots of standing about).

The reason for the delay became apparent as the performance progressed.  They were dogged by technical and mechanical difficulties throughout the show.  Unfortunately, when you work with marvellous machines made out of very physical bits of scrap metal in a live performance you have to deal with them conking out and needing a spot of fettling and TLC.  It is not like CGI creations in a film that don’t exist in physical space and can have all the messy bits cut and edited.

I felt very sorry for them though there was still a lot of good stuff to enjoy and by and large the audience were patient and encouraging.  The main issue seemed to be the uneven terrain that the machines had negotiate.  A mechanical horse built onto some sort of tractor/quad bike base whose mane and tail were made of roaring flames when the engine came to life was incredibly impressive but struggled to keep from stalling on areas with steeper slopes.

Some of you may remember the giant phoenix puppet that was on the top of the pyramid stage at Glastonbury last year when The Rolling Stones were playing.  This was a Mutoid Waste Co. creation and this together with a variety of other exciting creations were strung together in a story by a sequence of melodramatic voice-overs which introduced each new section, (usually one or two new “mutoids” made an appearance and moved about to some appropriate music, lighting and smoke/pyrotechnics).

However, the voice-over did not behave itself either – jumping ahead when it wasn’t supposed to and reversing back again, stuttering and playing the wrong pieces at the wrong time.  I don’t know if this was really technical issues with the sound itself or if they were simply reacting to the non-functioning/delays and swapping about of the scenes involving the machines.

Initially there was a “tree” made of exhaust pipes with an indeterminate shape lurking within it.  After the first voiceover section there was a great swelling of music and a great skeletal shape shot upwards whirling around with what appeared to be a scythe for one arm and a gun for the other.  This was our introduction to the mutoid inhabited apocalyptic future where the half man/half machine inhabitants fed upon the detritus left behind by mankind.  I believe the horse made it’s entrance at this point too.

Then there were a couple of gigantic mutoid fishes which did not do a great deal but looked very nice, a sort of amphibious/lizard looking automaton whose limbs moved rather nicely as it was driven along.  Also a sort of giant lantern hand suspended from a crane and a ride on rocket-like vehicle.

By far my favourite creation from the show however was a giant punk rocker puppet suspended from a crane which had a wonderful dancing action and character when it was in use to the strains of “Anarchy in the U.K.” by the Sex Pistols.

I hope that the performance we saw was merely suffering teething troubles and that audiences on the other nights enjoyed a more practiced and technical hitch free performance.  If the performance had come off as it was supposed to I think I would still not call it a piece of theatre but more of a spectacle as the “story” was extremely thin and contrived.  But even its unpolished state “spectacular” is definitely the right word to use.


2 – “Grime” by Ramshacklicious

This show will be appearing in Kendal at Mintfest at the end of August and is definitely worth watching.  We were lucky enough to see the idea for this show being pitched (in a slightly different form) at the X-trax Shorts presentations at Mintfest in 2011.  To get to see the actual show at Glastonbury was a bit of a treat.

Initially I think Ramshacklicious were intending to use a lot more puppetry in the show.  There is at least one puppet in the show which makes a brief (rather gruesome and macabre) appearance.  Mainly there is a lot of physical theatre with magnificent timing and expertly choreographed sequences.

There is a generous helping of VERY dark comedy and really great live music throughout.  There were fantastic individual performances from the group as well as seamless ensemble action.

The audiences expectations at the beginning of the show are completely subverted and turned upside-down.  At the beginning the burger van and the people inhabiting it seem like they could be a real festival fast food vendor. The scenario gradually becomes more surreal, macabre and violent but the increasing stylisation and performative aspects of the show balance out the darker content.  The climax of the show is truly fabulous.

However, definitely a show to be enjoyed by adults rather than children.

I have tried to be careful not to give the plot twist of the show away in this review.  It was a different experience for me as an audience member because I already knew what the show concept was.  For those watching the show without any prior knowledge I will simply say that there are clues to be found in the show if you pay careful attention and you may be clever enough to work it out before the big “reveal” at the end.


Panic Circus Tent Shows


3 – “Down to Earth” & “Robin Hood & the Monk” by No Strings Puppets

These were both tried, tested and extremely well honed shows performed by a seasoned professional.  The fact that Alan was up against the noise from the Dolly Parton concert during one of the performances and still managed to hang onto the audience was a credit to the strength of the show and his performance of it.

Down to Earth was particularly suitable for a Glasto. crowd.  The plot revolves around a greedy self centred business man who doesn’t care about how he is polluting the planet with his factories but resolves with a happy ending.  Alan was accompanied by his lovely wife on the piano accordion for this show.

Robin Hood and the Monk was a more robust show with broad general appeal including a fantastic sword fight between the Sheriff of Nottingham & Robin Hood as well as plenty of audience interaction and modern references.

There were also ingenious scenery changes that were much appreciated by the adults in the audience.

Both these shows used hand puppets and used a small puppet stage worn round the neck with the puppeteer visible behind.  This is very useful for audience interaction purposes and avoids the issue of booth invasion by small children, dogs etc.  This puppet stage could be “dressed”/used with different decorations and scenery for the two different shows.  He also used a head-set microphone which was essential in an environment like this with so much background noise, but also just to avoid tiring the voice out too much if you’re doing shows all the time.

We managed to do our show “Clueless & Wuffles – The Case of the Missing Jewels” in the tent without amplification which was a lot less faffing about when setting up for us.  But we avoided being opposite Dolly Parton and were not restricted to our booth for the majority of the show so were able to move right up close to the audience for much of the time.  We also did plenty of vocal warm-ups.


glasto43 – “Punch & Judy” by Professor Eekglasto8

I’ve seen a fair few Punch & Judy shows in my time and this was definitely of the unashamedly irreverent and unP.C. variety.  The show made liberal use of the sausage machine (with loud encouragement from the children) and also toilet humour and practical jokes.

Good, clean wholesome British fun then!  Professor Eek is also a ukulele player and entertained everyone with a variety of songs over the course of the festival.  He also liked our show so that makes him an all round good egg in our book!


glasto64 – “Punch & Judy” by Professor Panic & Mrs Panic

The Panic Punch show was a wide ranging show that I suspect was totally different for every audience.  That is one way of keeping your enthusiasm going as an entertainer who performs the same show frequently.

Professor Panic had some rather cutting social commentary/jokes as a part of the show too.  Another man who evidently isn’t afraid of offending anyone.

I much prefer this approach to some of the sanitised modern P & Js where there is a happy ending where Punch apologises to everyone or some-such.

Scary characters such as the ghost (or death), the crocodile and the devil have always been a part of the show and create necessary drama/peril in the story.  But some modern practitioners think children ought not to be frightened

Equally authority figures such as the Doctor or the Policeman have always been there and usually get the wrong end of the slap-stick from Mr. Punch.  This is quite right too as being subversive is a part of the heritage of Mr. Punch and is why it is funny.  It also makes him the perfect voice for modern political comment.

Mrs. Panic also made a vital contribution to the proceedings as a narrator/interpreter for the proceedings.  She could encourage audience interaction and also provide a look-out service for Professor Panic inside the booth.  This once again avoided the unexpected child in the booth scenario again.

Both Professors Eek and Panic opted not to use a swazzle for Mr. Punch which I think is probably a good idea if you want to include more sophisticated verbal comedy.  However good you are with a swazzle it is always more difficult to tell what Mr. Punch is saying, (though that is fine if he is sticking to stock phrases such as “That’s the way to do it” etc.).


glasto75 – “Willie the Wicked Wolf” by Over the Top Puppet Company

This was the tale of Little Red Riding Hood but from the wolf’s point of view.  The original story treated with very little reverence and none the worse for it.  Fairy tales are meant to be ever evolving and changing rather than using one static story that is written down in a book.  It would be very hard to pin down what exactly the legitimate version of the story is in the first place as traditional tales have many different versions and variations.  For our Hansel & Gretel toy theatre show we simply picked the bits we liked best from the different versions of the story.

Suffice to say the story contains a wolf, Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother but that anything else you think you know about the story is up in the air.

Granny is refreshingly pro-active and confident and is into keep fit rather than languishing pathetically in bed awaiting rescue by a man with a big axe.  Red Riding Hood is also a very self – possessed and intelligent girl who isn’t the slightest bit frightened or wimpy.

Willie the wolf may be wicked in a rock and roll motor bike riding, Hell’s Angel type way but deep down he’s a sympathetic (but HUNGRY) type who just wants people to like him and have friends.

But the story is not the only exciting thing about this show, the execution of the puppetry and the drama was anarchic, novel and fun.  The way the chase sequences were done and special effects were wonderful to watch.  Thoroughly entertaining and like all the other Panic Circus shows you could tell that this was a highly polished, long running show performed by a thoroughly experienced entertainer.

The other interesting thing for us was that we had heard snippets of many of the shows from back stage while we were getting ready for our own show.  The noises and sound effects from this show were baffling and extraordinary so it was nice to satisfy our curiosity when we finally got to watch it from the front, (this was valiantly done without the use of artificial amplification on this occasion simply because his sound system was playing up).

The Puppet of Willie was also very beautifully made and had impressive expressiveness to it, (he showed the strength of his emotions through timely wiggling of his ears).


If you have any comments on the reviews above, (such as your opinion on Punch & Judy, the rights and wrongs of violence in children’s entertainment etc. or feminism and fairy tales) it would be great to hear from you!

Also remember that our show: “Clueless & Wuffles – The Case of the Missing Jewels” is now available to book for your event.  CLICK HERE to contact me 🙂