New season: Norwich Puppet Theatre

TREVOR HEATON, EDP Whats On Editor One of Norfolk’s most unusual venues has announced its new season. Trevor Heaton previews the new season at Norwich Puppet Theatre.

TREVOR HEATON, EDP Whats On Editor

Housed in the medieval church of St James in Barrack Street/Whitefriars, Norwich Puppet Theatre is one of only two permanent venues for the genre in the whole country - and the only one that's outside London. And, best of all, it's fun.

Thousands of Norfolk children have had their first taste of live theatre with visiting productions and its charming in-house shows, and the new season promises old favourites - and some surprises too.

One to especially look out for this time round is Long Nose Puppets' version of children's tale Shoe Baby. Written by best-selling (and Norwich-based) author Joyce Dunbar, it's a great singalong show about a baby who takes to the sea, the air, the zoo - all in a shoe! But what part do the two giants play in the story…

This much-acclaimed production - running at 11am and 2.30pm on Tuesday May 29 and Wednesday May 30 - has music specially composed by Tom Gray of Gomez.

And something else that makes it a bit different from the puppet theatre's usual shows - where a “threes and over” rule applies - is that this show is open for 18-month-old toddlers and upwards.

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But the season gets under way a few days earlier (May 26) with two productions by Gavin Skerritt. The first, running at 2.30pm, is his version of Hans Christian Andersen's lovely (and moving) story Little Matchstick Girl. A poor match seller tries to warm herself on a bitterly cold night by lighting the matches she cannot sell - and as each one lights, she's presented with visions of her life. It's suitable for ages six and over.

In the evening (7.30pm) he presents a tale for older children (14-plus) and adults - Y Weledigaeth (The Vision), based on an ancient Welsh tale about a mysterious boy who appears out of a lake. The spellbinding story uses puppetry, movement, poetry and song. Tickets for this show are £10 adults, £7 concs.

On Saturday June 23 (2.30pm), Theatre of Widdershins presents Elves & the Shoemaker, a retelling of the fairytale for ages three and over. There'll be a beautifully-crafted set and puppets, music, lots of miniature shoes… and a comic mouse.

June 30 (2.30pm) sees the return of Lyngo Theatre with Dust Man (for ages five and over). Performed by Patrick Lynch (from CBeebies' Razzle Dazzle), it's the story of a man who lives on the other side of the mirror where cats talk and everything floats. Now he's broken through into our world - and has some magical things to show you.

There'll be live music from Carlo Capelli, stage illusions from Marcello Chiarenza and clowning from Patrick. It's aimed at ages five and over.

The first summer holiday production (July 26-August 18) is the theatre's own much-loved version of Snow White. We all know the story, and this show - suitable for ages four and above - uses an unusual mix of puppet forms, drama and live music. There'll be daily performances, except on Sundays and Mondays, at 2.30pm.

Then (August 21-September 1, not Sundays and Mondays) the theatre presents Emperor's New Clothes, Finland's Green Apple theatre's production, adapted, directed and performed by Luis Z Boy. The Hans Christian Andersen tale is suitable for ages six and above.

The theatre is also running more of its puppet-making workshops. The events, which start at 10.30am (unless stated), are suitable for ages five and over and are very popular, so make sure you book. There's one on clay modelling (May 31, could get messy - wear old clothes!), dinosaur (June 1, 2.30pm), troll (June 2), glove puppet with legs (June 23), coloured shadow (June 30), marionette (July 23), pop-up puppet (July 24), walking hand (July 26), scrap box (July 27), rod marionette (July 30), pop-up theatre and puppet (August 1, double session, £12), double character (August 3), animal string (August 4), seaworld (August 15), Snow White character (August 16), scarecrow (August 18), animation workshop (August 21, two-hour session, £15), double rod (August 23), bird marionette (August 24), giant puppet (August 29, double session, £12), dragon (August 29, 2.30pm) and robots and aliens (August 31).

Unless otherwise stated ticket prices are (shows) £6.50 adult, £4.50 child, £5 concs, and (workshops) £7.

In recent years the venue has included live theatre and other productions. From June 14-16 (8pm), new Norwich group Laughing Monkey present a double bill, Farce of the Devil's Bridge by Henri Gheon and World Premiere by Charles Mander.

Suitable for ages 12-plus, tickets (£5) are available in advance from Laughing Monkey: P 07828 314090 or P 07791 880209 or on the door on the night. All profits from this production will go to Act 4 Africa.

Then on June 21 (7.30pm) iceandfire, Actors for Refugees and Refugee Week 2007 present Asylum Monologues. The production - suitable for ages 14-plus - is an account of the UK's asylum system, told first-hand by the people who have experienced it.

More details on http://www.iceandfire.co.uk/actorsforrefugees/index.html Free entry.

t As part of Heritage Buildings Open Weekend, the theatre is running a guided tour on September 6 and 7 (12.30pm), with self-guided tours and workshop on September 8 (10am-4pm).

t Then on September 15 (11am-11pm), Miller Enterprises presents the first Norwich Acoustic Festival. There'll be three performance areas with a full listing published in August. All-day tickets will be £10.

t More details from the theatre box office 01603 629921 or info@puppettheatre.co.uk www.puppettheatre.co.uk

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