“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.


Monsters in Redcar, Woven Grass and Mrs. Santa

Horse + Bamboo’s Angus Mcphee

You have probably noticed that I have gone a bit quiet for a few weeks, but that is not because there’s been nothing going on.

We had a lovely time performing at the “That’s the Way to Do It” puppet festival at Kirkleatham Museum in Redcar.  Our giant Jabberwocky monster enjoyed getting out of the Rough Magic Theatre shed and menacing people.

Unfortunately as is often the case, both Tim and myself were performing at the same time so we could not take any decent photo’s.  There are however a couple of quite good shots in a slideshow at the bottom of the page in this local newspaper,  (click here to look).

We did struggle a little with the glass roof in the performance space for “Alice” which both let in a bit too much light for the best viewing of the shadow puppets and also leaked water onto us when there was a sudden downpour.  But I am told that they are looking to replace the roof next year and they are looking forward to it being a much improved performance space as a result.

On Sunday, as you’ve probably guessed from the picture, we went to see one of the extremely few performances in England of Horse + Bamboo’s Angus Mcphee – Weaver of Grass.  There is a link to Bob Frith’s blog about the show on my blogroll.

I have been a very big fan of Horse + Bamboo’s work for many years.  I first I saw them perform “Harvest of Ghosts” at Streets Ahead in Manchester some years back.  I liked that show because it combined powerful imagery, atmospheric music and a deeply affecting moral message.  I had also been impressed with the dark humour and the way the story was expressed so clearly with such minimal use of words.  Indeed, spoken words were entirely absent but there was some use of written signs to express meaning.

Angus Mcphee had a very different atmosphere to that particular production though it had some of the same hallmarks.  It was a biography of a real man, Angus Mcphee, a crofter.  It covered his childhood in a very joyful, energetic and funny way.  It made good use of a variety of different types of puppet as well as masks, including glove puppets, some lovely horses and a cow with an udder made from a red rubber glove.

They used something which I think is a relatively recent innovation for them, which was shadow puppet film.  It was beautifully done and achieved effects that would have been impossible to do live, but I think they lacked the life and immediacy of live shadow puppetry.

They dealt with the darker areas of Angus’s history very well too and I was particularly impressed by the way they portrayed Angus’s treatment in the mental institution.

I ended the play being intensely interested in the real Angus Mcphee and although his story was sad I was not swept away emotionally.  This was partly because, as a puppeteer and theatre practitioner, I was busy dissecting the techniques they were using and working out how things were done.  The other part though, was that I think the show achieved perfect Brechtian alienation through the use of masks, puppets, puppeteers and singers on view, non-realistic scenery, projections etc.  I don’t know if this was the same for everyone who watched the piece, but I felt entertained and instructed but not swept away by emotional empathy, (Brecht would be proud).

I am also back working with the infamous Leo Nolan, (Rough Magic Theatre’s former artistic director).  After a break doing other things he is returning in the charming guise of the hilariously inept Ralph the Elf.  Together with Mrs. Santa, (yours truly) they decide to put up a Christmas tree, just as they do every year.  What could possibly go wrong?  Stuffed to the brim with slapstick, this is a cheery little show for younger children.  You can see more information on this, and other shows and workshops for Christmas on the new Christmas Events page, (CLICK HERE).

Don’t forget we have a page with shows and workshops for Halloween events too, (CLICK HERE).