FROM THE FRONTLINE:
Buxton or Bust
Jeremy Bidgood of Pangolin’s Teatime on the trials and tribulations of touring their acclaimed show, The Great Puppet Horn
Driving along the A515 on a beautiful summer’s evening we are once again stuck behind a tractor. This time one that gently excretes hay onto our windscreen from its bulging trailer. This is neither helping my driving nor our chances of getting to Buxton in time to set up and perform our show, The Great Puppet Horn, as part of the Buxton Puppet Festival (July 2011).
Thanks to the peculiarities of my car we have spent more time than we should have done waiting for a repairman on the side of the motorway. In fact, just the right amount of time to ensure that we hit the rush hour traffic round Derby in full stasis.
As we watch motorcyclists happily overtake the very large tractor on blind corners I ponder the possibility of touring the show on motorbikes but decide that three A1 folders of shadow puppets, a shadow screen, a good old fashioned (and very heavy) overhead projector plus numerous other items are probably not practical or hip enough items of luggage for any Easy Rider wannabes.
After twenty minutes of using the windscreen wipers to brush away hay, the tractor driver finally notices the large queue of impatient drivers behind him and pulls over to let us past. We finally make it to Buxton with a remarkable forty minutes to spare before the show starts.
Buxton is a beautiful and rather sleepy spa town surrounded by rolling green hills. It contains the only shop dedicated to caving supplies that I have ever seen and bus stops with signs that helpfully explain the 24-hour clock. As we drive through the town trying to find the venue we wonder how our semi-political, semi-scatological, definitely-stupid approach to humour will fare outside the metropolitan buzz of Camden. Memories of The League of Gentlemen’s Royston Vasey flash into my mind and I half expect to be greeted by a variant on Tubbs and Edward telling me that this is a local puppet festival for local puppets before being clubbed to death with a souvenir Buxton snow globe.
My somewhat judgemental day-dreams are fortunately unfounded and we are met by delightful venue staff who help us get unloaded in no time allowing us a good twenty minutes to get our screen in place, do a sound test, double-check that our 100 puppets and 200 acetates are all in the right place and finally make sure that our glass of adzuki beans is set (their purpose I will not reveal, you must come and see the show).
We are performing in the studio theatre in the Pavilion Arts Centre which is the perfect size for our show, seating about ninety people. The turnout is good and the audience very responsive – they even laugh at the scatological bits, thankfully, justifying the hours of driving and waiting.
Afterwards several audience members hang around to chat about the show whilst we pack up. Despite being a small town Buxton is quite capable of providing a decent audience even to disreputable shadow puppeteers.
Unfortunately due to our delay in arriving and the need to get back to London that night we did not get to see any other shows at the festival. We also did not manage to meet any of the festival organisers, which was a shame. In many ways the experience felt more like a one-off gig than a programmed festival but I imagine we just weren't there long enough to experience the full festival spirit. Regardless, our trip was very enjoyable and hats off to the organisers for maintaining a puppet festival with such a varied programme in these gloomy financial times.
So next year do make your way to Buxton for a sleepy summer's evening of puppetry and of course the famed water, which disappointingly contains no more magic powers when drunk from its source than it does in a plastic bottle (either way, it tastes good though). Just make sure you get your MOT done first.