Rob Humphreys, director at the Puppet Theatre Barge in London, takes us into an unusual and very exciting world of storytelling, where almost anything is possible.
If you want to hear a story, you might decide to reach for a book and enjoy the solitude of reading in bed, you might head for the sofa and hope to catch some TV drama, or you might visit your local cinema and watch the latest blockbuster. But millions of people every year choose to go to the theatre to get their fix of story-telling. Theatre – which, in Europe at least, has been around for over two and a half thousand years – is the place to go to experience live story-telling.
At most theatres, the story tellers will, of course, all be humans, who earn their living as actors and actresses. There is one place in London, however, where the story tellers are not human at all. It’s a place where pigs can fly (and even talk) and moons can definitely be blue. That place is the Puppet Theatre Barge, moored in Little Venice, on the canal near Paddington Station. Here, the stories are all told by hand-carved wooden puppets, string marionettes manipulated from above by hidden operators. Sometimes these puppets are carved to look like humans, but, more often than not, the puppets are animals: mice and monkeys, heffalumps and hares and all the birds of the air. The puppet theatre is a magical place where animals can speak and argue, make friends and fall asleep, but best of all it’s a place where (almost) anything is possible – if you can imagine it, you can probably make it happen in a puppet theatre. Especially if that puppet theatre is on a boat!
When you are told a story, you are immediately taken on a journey. With the Puppet Theatre Barge, the audience begin their journey as soon as they step onto the gangplank and climb aboard. They descend below the water line (wellingtons not necessary) and leave the real world behind. Puppets from other parts of the world hang from the walls in retirement. The theatre’s golden curtain is softly lit and seats for over 50 people slope gently to the roof. A ship’s bell is rung, the audience falls silent in anticipation. Music plays, the lights dim, the theatre goes dark and finally the curtain rises. What’s the story today? The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, a story as old as Theatre itself, written by the Ancient Greek poet Aesop – the only difference, our country mouse sports dungarees and sends postcards to her cousin in the town, while our town mouse drives a noisy car and wears a party dress.
If you are interested in booking tickets for the latest production at the Puppet Theatre Barge or finding out about the compnay’s work in schools and libraries, have a look at their website http://www.puppetbarge.com/
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.