As well as the ballet fanstasy, The Little Ballet of the Handkerchief Princess the February Half Term Treat at The Harlequin Puppet Theatre includes the funny puppet play written especially for puppets, The Silly King and the Wrong Wife.
This rather old fashioned fairy story was written by an American lady called Edna St. Vincent Millay. It was originally called Two Slatterns and a King but since we realised very few people know what the word slattern means we thought it deserved a new title.
The King really is silly. First he says he’ll never ever get married, then completely changes his mind and goes looking for a wife. His idea of a wife is someone who is clean and neat and tidy, and good at washing clothes and cleaning palaces and cooking meals and making beds and …. do you think he’s really looking for a wife? It sounds more like a servant doesn’t it?
Anyway he goes about it in completely the wrong way, and he’s bossy too! Well he gets his deserts. There’s mischievious demon called Chance, and he can make everything go wrong, and he does.
The King rejects Mistress Tidy, who is having a very difficult day, but is very impressed by Mistress Slut.
The King thinks he has been so clever and found the perfect wife to be his slave, but in the end it looks like he’s the one who gets bossed around and probably has to do the washing up!
This story was written with adults as much in mind as children. The moral of the tale is pretty universal but the language aimed at adults and older children would seem a challenge for the little ones. Nevertheless they usually listen attentively and are amused by the situation of the King being fooled, while the adults will probably enjoy the poetic and witty dialogue.
We are currently planning the Family Show to start on Bebruary 19th and to Run until March the 2nd. It will feature a charming little ballet about a princess and a wizard, and a funny unfamiliar fairy tale about a King who chooses the wrong wife.
Our One-Man Christmas Family Show at The Harlequin Puppet Theatre is certainly attracting the audiences this year, with already one day completely booked out, and we’ve only been open for 4 days. The after-show comments from both adults and children have been exceptionally gratifying.
Actually this is quite short season for we only run until January 5th because that is the last weekend before the children return to school for the start of the new term.
Our next season will be the February Half Term when we are planning to show The Little Ballet of the Handkerchief Princess
The programme will also include a funny play Two Silly Women and a Very Silly King. There will also be Mr Bimbamboozle’s Magic and Chris Somerville’s MARIONETTE CABARET.
It’s getting exciting now, I’ve started with the pre-school nursery shows. This means quite a bit of travelling which I don’t really mind since the rewards are plentiful. The Nurseries are all decorated and festive, the 3 and 4 year olds excited, some a little bewildered, as they file in to either sit in rows on tiny chairs, or sometimes in a semi circle on the floor. They make a lovely audience with a a good sense of fun and a trusting belief in magic. I concentrate on the magic for the very young ones. I do introduce puppets amidst the magic tricks, but rarely do a formal puppet show for the under fives.
Of course with the primary school shows I am catering to bigger audiences (over 400 in some schools) and a wide age range. In these shows I feature Punch & Judy as well as lots of Magic Tricks. These very different shows, but I still enjoy them, especially with my regulars. Some schools have booked me every Christmas for the past 20 years and more.
But between the various school shows I am of course rehearsing for the Christmas Show at the Harlequin which opens on Boxing Day. This year features “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp”. I haven’t done this production since 2014 so there’s a lot to remember and a lot to rehearse. It’s not only the puppets and their acting but also the scenery and lights. A two minute scene change from the Streets of Old Pekin to An Enchanted Cavern in the Mountains of Arabia is quite a feat for the solo performer and takes quite as much practise as do the actual puppets. The great thing is that it’s still fun. After over 60 years a professional puppeteer and it still excites me. Which is probably for the best because I suspect its too late to get a proper job!
On Saturday at 3pm we have the final show before the majority of children go back to school for the Christmas Term. We’ve been very busy this holiday, but not every day. Wev’e had some bumper days when the theatre has been almost full, but then other days when only a few families arrived for the show. Probably this is partly to do with the fact that we straddle several Welsh counties and several English counties in our catchment area, and their holiday weeks have not coincided at all. Although the October holiday is only a week we opened the theatre for two weeks so as to disappoint as few children as possible. Let’s see what Friday and Saturday bring. This programme has been very well received, and the play, “The Gooseberry Mandarin”, despite a quite challenging vocabulary, has held even the very young in rapt attention. Mr Bimbamboozle’s Magic is always a firm favourite, and the children do so love to point out his mistakes, and act as magician’s assistants. The adults appreciate the skill and humour demonstrated in the Marionette Cabaret. The children enjoy this too, albeit on a different level. Immediately this season is over we will be planning for Christmas. Scenery and puppets will come out of store and there will be strings to repair and much repainting and possible new costumes needed as we get everything ready for our December production of “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp”, a favourite pantomime story of ours and the basis of this years Christmas Show at the Harlequin Puppet Theatre which runs from BOXING Day until the end of the Christmas Holidays.
Local Schools are on holiday this week, but last week was surprisingly busy with children from English areas where their holiday was a week earlier than most. Many of them were staying with grandparents who bring them to The Harlequin.
Our season carries on, through Halloween, and finishes on Saturday November 3rd. We hope to see many more young friends at our fun-filled family show. In addition to the whimsical puppet play of The Gooseberry Mandarin we also feature Mr Bimbamboozle’s Magic Tricks which would be quite impossible without the enthusiastic help of the Children.
The show always ends with the impressive puppet manipulation featured in Marionette Cabaret.
It is an hour and a half of unique entertainment. You just can’t see a show like this not anymore, not anywhere else in Britain.
Days of summery weather are still with us, but cold days as well. But Autumn is on its way and I’m busy getting ready for my October Half Term Season at the Harlequin. This year I am presenting an unusual story written a long time ago, and set in China. It is a fantastic story about a Willow Tree who falls in love with a Princess and her father, The Mandarin, who won’t allow anything to be planted in his garden except gooseberries, yet he craves a banana, a fruit he has never tasted! It is a story which I tell the children has a Happy-Sad ending, and they seem to know what I mean. It is beautifully written by Grace Dorcas Ruthenburgh and was Eric Bramall’s favourite puppet play. Eric Bramall was the man who built the Harlequin Puppet Theatre and who taught me how to work puppets. He died in 1996, but he will be glad that I am still managing to do this story. When he was alive we had three puppeteers to perform this play, now I have to do it alone.
Hope to see some of you during the holiday, October 22nd to November 3rd.
2018 proved a remarkable summer both for sunshine and for audience numbers at The Harlequin. Rhos-on-Sea’s sandy beach had more families than I’ve seen for several years, and although the sun kept a lot of them on the beach a goodly few came into the shade of the puppet theatre to enjoy our production of “Tales from Alice” being my favourite sequences from Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass.
So a new generation of children met the White Rabbit, the Duchess. the Caterpiller, the Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat and Humpty Dumpty as well as learning about a Victorian little girl, Alice Lidel, who lived locally and for whom the book was written by Lewis Carrol as a birthday present.
Our nexy opening is for the October Half Term (October 22 to November 3) when we will be showing “The Princess and the Gooseberry Mandarin.” This was Eric Bramall’s favourite puppet play, and it his recorded voice playing the part of the Mandarin.
Since this little season spans Halloween we will of course be featuring Mr Scary-Bones the Skeleton in The Marionette Cabaret, the feature which ends every show at the Harlequin.
If there has been a favourite puppet with the children over the years, including both boys and girls and even the young ones, it has to be The Skeleton.
St Bridgets on the Wirral is a very old church, a Primary School and an enthusiastic Community who every year put on a St Bridgets Summer Fair towards the end of June. For the past four or five years that I’ve been attending with my Punch & Judy show the event has been blessed with sunshine. It’s a fairly low key event with perhaps only dozen stalls, a bouncy castle and Punch & Judy, a burger barbeque and a stall offering strawberries and cream.. They have a brass band, handbell ringing demonstrations in the church, and Maypole Dancing by children from the school. It is always well supported and is one I look forward to each year. It has a reassuring timeless feel and is not all that different from the Garden Party in the Vicarage garden which I remember as a child, although in those days we didn’t have a brass band, or a Punch & Judy for that matter, but we did have a bran tub!
This year the Fair was opened by the Mayor of the Wirral (The Wirral being a Metropolitan Borough I learned). He and the Mayoress stayed for the whole afternoon. I had just finished my last show and was beginning to pack up when the Mayor’s minder (there must be some official title but I don’t know it) came to ask if Mr Punch was still available for a photograph with the be-chained couple. Of course Punch agreed, well he’s always been a supporter of Civic Authority, and he cheekily asked for a copy of the picture. The Mayoress asked for a business card, so can we look forward to a summons to the Mayor’s Parlour?