Just when you thought puppets couldn’t get any more streetwise than the Muppets, along came Avenue Q to take manually operated puppetry onto a new level of sophistication.
The idea of a show in which the puppets and the puppeteers worked side by side, with no attempt to create an illusion of ventriloquy, was revolutionary.
What surprised everyone, including the creators, was how audiences focussed on the puppets rather than the puppeteers during the performance. This was achieved partly by the appearance of the puppets, with their big googly eyes and garishly coloured skin and clothes, and partly by the ingenuity of puppeteers.
“It’s actually a really difficult thing to do,” says Nigel Plaskitt, who has been operating puppets and training puppeteers for nearly 40 years in a career which has seen him create the PG Tips Monkey and work for the Jim Hensen company . “You’ve got to play the character, create his or her voice, animate this creature on your arm and become so expert at the lip-synching that you don’t even have to think about it.”
In the eight years he has worked on various productions of Avenue Q, Nigel has coached dozens of actors in puppeteering.
“Out of hundreds of people I’ve seen at castings, I can count on the fingers of two hands the people who haven’t been able to do it,” he said. “I look for coordination, that’s essential. In some ways it’s a good idea not to have had any prior experience; then you have no preconceptions.”
Avenue Q visits Chesterfield’s Winding Wheel from October 20 to 24.
Tickets from £34.50. Contact 01246 345222.