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Thirty years of shows at Norwich Puppet Theatre

PUBLISHED: 17:48 15 November 2010 | UPDATED: 17:53 15 November 2010

Thumbelina at Norwich Puppet Theatre.

Thumbelina at Norwich Puppet Theatre.

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From Sleeping Beauty to a Japanese folk tale to a Rudyard Kipling classic, Norwich Puppet Theatre has performed a huge range of stories with puppets of all shapes and sizes in the past three decades.

Norwich Puppet Theatre (NPT) co-founder Ray DaSilva, who ran the theatre with his wife Joan until 1986, said: “There is no limit to what puppets can do, they come in all shapes and sizes from miniature hand-held creatures to larger than life.

“Over the years NPT has had them all, both in its home-grown productions, and from other companies which have come from the UK and overseas.

“When we first started our company on a professional basis in 1962 puppeteers were hidden from view and we revelled in the ‘magic’ that could be created.

“Gradually in the last two decades the puppet artist has taken a greater prominence and these days most shows are presented with the puppeteers in vision.”

Ian Woods, who has been the manager of NPT for 12 years, said: “We have got 30 years of history and in that time we have had a lot of influences from the three artistic directors we have had – Ray DaSilva, Barry Smith and Luis Boy – as well as the visiting directors and the puppeteers who have all brought in different styles.

“The work that has been made and performed by the Puppet Theatre demonstrates how versatile puppetry is as an art form and how sophisticated it can be. There is so much scope for retelling stories in different ways.

“In the future there is likely to be more interaction between new technologies and the traditional puppet craft, but underlying everything will always be traditional puppetry and the simple stories being told.”

Some of the show highlights over the past 30 years:

1980s

Humbug Humbug, an adaptation of the classic Christmas tale Scrooge was NPT’s very first show on December 1 1980.

It was chosen not just because it was seasonal and a production already in the DaSilva puppet company’s repertoire, but because Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was one of Ray and Joan DaSilva’s favourite stories.


One of the most ambitious shows of the 1980s was Alice in Wonderland, created in 1982. A human Alice performed with a mixture of marionettes and rod puppets. The show went on a six month national tour and was adapted as a feature film by Anglia Television. 


Paper Tiger was first shown in 1980 and continued to be performed until 1988, and revived in the 1990s. Set in a paper mill, it told of a little Japanese boy’s first day at work and his imaginary journey into a world made from paper in which he encountered dragons, fantastic creatures and paper tigers.

It used Japanese Bunraku style puppets and origami characters, and was one of the first productions where the puppeteers were clearly seen rather than hidden behind a screen or mask.


The theatre used large-scale rod puppets to put on Just So – The Elephant’s Child (or How the Elephant Got His Nose) based on Rudyard Kipling’s Just So series, and took audiences on a colourful adventure through Africa to the banks of the Limpopo river where fantastic events changed the fate of the Elephant Child and the shape of the elephant’s nose forever.

1990s

Sleeping Beauty was the theatre’s 10th anniversary Christmas show, retelling the classic fairytale with large hand-held puppets and special lighting.


The puppet music drama The Bet was commissioned for NPT’s 10th anniversary and premiered in London in 1990.

It brought puppets and chamber music together, and was described as a delicate modern fairytale and a parable about the generations and their cruelties and hopes. 


George’s Marvellous Medicine, the tale of a small boy dealing with a grumpy granny, was the second Roald Dahl book turned into a show by NPT, after James and the Giant Peach. Performed between 1991 and 2006, it toured many schools, had a season at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and continued to be part of the repertoire into the 2000s.


First created in 1992 and being revived for the 30th anniversary season, NPT’s production of Thumbelina was created as a one-woman play set in a huge wicker basket in and around which a host of glove and rod puppets play out the Hans Christian Andersen story.


In 1994 the theatre’s version of Jack and the Beanstalk was created and it was part of the repertoire until 2007.

Set in a child’s bedroom, the show explored how children use toys to play out a story, and when first performed the production challenged audiences by using toys – including a bear, a rag doll and a toy truck etc – as puppets to tell the story. The show toured in Finland, Spain and the Netherlands, and is now on loan to the original performer Melvyn Rawlinson who is touring with it in the East Midlands 


Based on the Brothers Grimm tale, in the NPT’s version of Snow White a number of the dwarves were on holiday in Majorca. The show, which was part of the NPT repertoire between 1994 and 2007, used rod and marionette puppets played on a stage made from a converted hospital bed. The show travelled as far away as Canada and is now touring in Spain with Luis Boy, who left NPT in 2008.


Pinocchio was part of the repertoire between 1999 and 2007. Collodi’s famous tale was brought to life with a mix of glove, bunraku and shadow puppets, with Mark Whitaker handling the wooden Pinocchio puppet at the same time as playing the part of Geppetto by using a mask. Pinocchio toured extensively including spending 10 days at the national theatre in Portugal.

2000s

NPT’s production of the Snow Queen in 2000 was directed by Luis Boy and created as a co-production with Green Apple Theatre from Finland. The production explored the friendship between Kai and Gerda, and when Kai is lured away to the Snow Queen’s palace it is Gerda who tracks him down and unfreezes his heart. The show was performed for the 20th anniversary celebrations.


In the 2002 to 2003 production of Hansel and Gretel, the puppet that played the title role in James and the Giant Peach was recast as Hansel in the show where Hansel and Gretel need to outwit a wicked witch to return to their father.


NPT’s newest show is the Chalk Giants. It was created as a co-production with Indefinite Articles from Cambridge and retells the Jack and the Beanstalk and Jack the Giant Killer legends from the giant’s perspective using traditional puppetry and multimedia. The show has been performed in Norwich and is on tour – including a 3 week run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

See next Monday’s Evening News for the next Norwich Puppet Theatre feature.

t Norwich Puppet Theatre is holding a series of events to mark the theatre’s 30th birthday.

A free exhibition about the theatre will be at Fusion in the Forum, Norwich, from November 29 to December 4.

On November 30, at The Forum, there will be an auction of puppets designed by celebrities. Tickets for the event cost £10.

Norwich Puppet Theatre will host a free open day on December 4 from 10am until 5pm followed by a cabaret show in the evening which costs £10 a ticket.

To buy tickets for the auction or cabaret call 01603 629921, email info@puppettheatre.co.uk, or visit www.puppet theatre.co.uk

People are also being invited to send in their memories of Norwich Puppet Theatre.

People can submit images, videos and their written memories online at www.norwichpuppettheatre.co.uk, bring items to the theatre, email info@norwichpuppettheatre.co.uk or call 01603 615564

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