Norwich Puppet Theatre founders return to celebrate venue’s 30th birthday

The founders of Norwich Puppet Theatre have returned to the venue to recreate the magic of the theatre's first ever performance 30 years ago.

Ray and Joan DaSilva, now 77 and 82 respectively, travelled from their home, in Dorset, to once more perform their opening act - Fanfare for Puppets - at the theatre they had worked so hard to establish.

Using the original puppets they had created for the sequence all those years ago, they took to the stage on Saturday evening to open the theatre's 30th birthday cabaret show that was the final event in the venue's week of anniversary celebrations.

Mr DaSilva said Fanfare for Puppets, which had been performed immediately before the theatre's first show Humbug Humbug on December 1 1980, was a joyous and happy piece of performance work, and he said he hoped it would herald the beginning of another 30 years of success for the theatre.

The couple, who ran the theatre until 1986, both said returning for its 30th birthday was a very special and emotional experience for them.

Mrs DaSilva said she had been especially moved when they met up with volunteer Sandra Shanks, who had been working in the front of house during their time at NPT, and who continues to do so today.

Mr DaSilva added: 'This is what the theatre depends upon - the support of local people. The theatre was built by Norwich people for Norwich people and it is wonderful it has lasted so long.

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'It is great so many different types of puppets and so many different companies from all over the world have performed here.

'We pay tribute to the people of Norwich who helped to build the theatre and to the people who continue to support the theatre.'

As well as the DaSilva's performance, the cabaret featured a range of performers who have been associated with the theatre over the years. They included Mark Mander with Clementine the Living Fashion Doll, object theatre from Sean Myatt, shadow theatre from Meg Amsden, Noisy Oyster's Dangerous Dave, Bryan Clarke's Punch and Judy for grown-ups, and Zannie Fraser's burlesque shadows The Black Cat.

The theatre had also played host to a free open day on Saturday for people of all ages to come and explore Norwich Puppet Theatre, create their own puppets, and enjoy performances of Thumbelina and Little Red Robin Hood.

Ian Woods, the theatre's general manager, said Saturday's events were a wonderful end to the theatre's anniversary week that had also included a celebrity puppet auction and a special exhibition at The Forum charting the theatre's history.

He said the celebration week had been a great opportunity to share memories with old friends of the theatre and also open new people's eyes about Norwich Puppet Theatre.

'The cabaret was a lovely mixture of puppetry and everyone who was performing had some link to the theatre.

'It was a happy occasion that brought old friends and the greater Norwich Puppet Theatre family together - right from the steering committee from the early days of the theatre to new people interested in volunteering for the Puppet Theatre today,' he said.

'The open day went really well. We had about 230 people through the doors, more than 50 puppets were made, and lots of people enjoyed the performances of Thumbelina and Little Red Robin Hood.

'We had lots of really nice comments from people about the theatre. It was a wonderful celebration.'

Is your organisation celebrating a landmark anniversary? Contact reporter Emma Knights on 01603 772428 or email emma.knights@archant.co.uk

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