“Catch The Wind” in Morecambe and Catching Puppets at Upfront Theatre

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For those who are not aware of it, I would recommend a visit to Morecambe for the “Catch the Wind” Kite Festival (run by our lovely friends in Morecambe – More Music) which is always a great day out and happens every year.

As you can see from the photos, one of the main features of the festival are the spectacular giant kites on the beach which are like a kind of puppet really.  The giant kites this year included a whale, a diver, some snakes, a gecko and a lion as well as a giant multicoloured windsock.  Morecambe is the perfect place for a festival like this as they can always guarantee plenty of wind for the kites, (though I believe sometimes the wind gets too strong which can cause problems).

We visited on Sunday the 24th and had planned to try and fly our own kite which we made at a kite making workshop at the Looking Well Studios (Pioneer Projects) in Bentham some years ago.  It was a really good design and easy to fly, and I had been meaning to try it out again for some time.  Unfortunately we discovered that the plastic had perished so we had a good time on the beach with Anthony trying out his bucket and spade/rake for the first time instead.

Afterwards we went to the lovely Brucciani’s Ice Cream grade 2 listed ice cream parlour, which opened in 1939 and still has all the original interior art deco decor.  The Brucciani family have been making and selling ice cream in Morecambe for over 100 years, and still run the business today.  As with most Morecambe businesses, the prices are very reasonable and we are very keen to give our custom to independent businesses like this.

The next day, having found out that John Parkinson had put together a puppet display and talk for an open studio event, we decided this was the perfect excuse to have a day out at Upfront Puppet Theatre and Gallery in Unthank, near Penrith.

We’d visited before for the first ever Puppeteers UK meeting when John was still in the process of building the new theatre and more recently to see the circus show using Stan Parker’s marionettes.  The exhibition we were going to see was of John’s own work, spanning his 40 year career.  It included photographs as well as some beautiful puppets.

Unfortunately we missed the talk part (which was on the Friday) and there were no labels on the puppets or photographs so the captions on the photos are my own guesswork.

We were particularly pleased to see John’s “Alice in Wonderland” puppets up close as Alice is one of our particular favourites.  We do, of course, have our own production of “Alice” as well as the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party walkabout show.  CLICK HERE for more info.

While we were there, we discovered that there was also an exhibition of Commedia dell’Arte masks upstairs so we had a look at that as well.

They were the results of a 2 year residency by David Griffiths at a Leeds school who’d asked him to create commedia dell’Arte masks for them.  As well as the wooden forms, which are the base for all of the other masks, he created a set of flat pack cardboard masks which could be used for schools as well as plastic and leather masks (made using a process only 4 people in this country use, according to David).  You can see more photos and info about his exhibition and workshops on his website by clicking HERE

For those who do not know anything about Commedia dell’Arte, it was a form of theatre from Renaissance Italy which involved improvised drama around a set of stock characters or stereotypes each with a distinctive mask, costume and movements, voice and posture.

Mr. Punch is based on the character of Pulcinella and the Harlequinade, which was a feature of early pantomime in this country, was also based on Commedia dell’Arte characters (Arlecchino became Harlequin).


John has invited us to come back and see their show of The Pied Piper of Hamelin (first showing July 20th) so we’ll hopefully be attending that and telling you all about it a bit later on.


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!