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Buxton or Bust

Buxton Puppet Festival director Peter Charlton on his 2004 success

After last year’s successful first Buxton Puppet Festival, we were keen to return with a bigger and better show for 2004. These hopes were fuelled by an invitation by Buxton Opera House to go into partnership as festival producers, which would give us use of their publicity department, box office and, on certain days, their beautiful theatre. Hopes however were dashed when ACE rejected our application and I had £17,000 less in the budget than I had hoped for. A lot of form filling and calling in of favours resulted, and by mid-May we were able to publish a full week-long bill of performances and workshops. Top of the bill was Japanese Puppet Master Nori Sawa, currently residing in Prague where I first saw him some years ago. Last year Nori did a one-day Bunraku workshop and performed his show, both to great acclaim. This year he suggested doing a four-day puppet-making workshop and a performance of his new show, Fairy Tales. Thanks to funding from several Japanese charities, this was accomplished with some success. His show rapidly sold out and nine keen puppeteers signed on for his workshop.

Following the opening, The Beresford Puppets’ excellent History of Clowns, which combines performance and workshop, the Mayor of Buxton duly officially opened the festival and made British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild history by being the first person to open a festival with their own puppet. She was the proud owner of a very early Pelham Noddy!

The rest of the festival, which consisted of daily workshops for children, day-time performances for children, evening shows for adults, street shows plus an exhibition of puppets and puppet-related ephemera, was equally successful. All shows played to fairly full houses, many had the House Full notices up. And there were some excellent shows to be seen. Two local companies were amongst those who sold out: Music Box with an excellent show for young children and Peak Puppets with their beautiful and humorous shadow show, The Seven Voyages of Sinbad. Waggish Radish Theatre from Bulgaria gave a most entertaining Under the Carpet that drew admiration remarks from both the local audience and visiting puppeteers.

New companies were given a chance to show their wares and showed that there is a lot of young talent emerging. Mother and young son company, Harvey’s Puppet Show from Yorkshire showed promise and the newly-formed Rubbish(d) with their 4th Violin on the Left got not only a full house but also lots of cheers for their high-energy, off-the-wall production. 'More of this please' requested one of the response forms. The Scratch Night also produced some interesting work, mingling old, traditional styles with modern cutting-edge material, and a few bits in between. A good night – and well supported by the Buxton people. Many superlatives were written on the response sheets for: Blue Sky Theatre’s Round and Round the Garden Like a Teddy Bear"; Presto Puppets’ The Snow Queen and Puppet Parade; Stephen Mottram’s company Animata with 'In Suspension' and Nori Sawa’s Fairy Tales.

Whilst the rest of England sweltered under a heat wave, the streets of Buxton were often so cold and wet that street shows were out of the question, but when the sunshine appeared so did Professor James Arnott’s Punch & Judy Show, The Wychwood Marionettes' Street Circus and Mister Peter’s Puppets’ St. George & the Dragon, all getting good crowds and encouraging ‘bottles’!

Workshops run by Keith Barnes, Pauline Venables and Ted & Kath Beresford did good business, and children proudly hugging recently-made puppets became a common sight in Buxton. Not enough space to mention all the shows in detail, but successful performances were also given by Puppets & Praises, The Beresford Puppets and Peter Charlton with The Song and Dance Men and Mister Peter’s Puppets’ The Animal Show. The last day of the festival featured the Toy Theatre sector of the Guild, the highlights of which were a performance of The Pirates of Penzance by The Peasgoods and Paul Kingsley’s Cappricio Theatre with excerpts from opera.

Plans are already afoot for Buxton Puppet Festival 2005… Book early to avoid disappointment!

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