It’s four years since Puppetmongers presented Tea At The Palace, a delightful puppet show based on a pair of Russian folktales.
We’ve enjoyed Bed And Breakfast and Cinderella In Muddy York, the company’s other holiday shows, but we have a soft spot for Tea. Maybe it’s the pop-up elements of the set, or the various perspective views of the characters, who are sometimes life-size and sometimes diminutive figures that can fit in a child’s toy theatre.
No question that the show also works because of the chemistry between the two puppeteers.
“We really like its richness – the fact that we don’t tell the stories in a straightforward way,” says Ann Powell, who works with her brother David, “but get to play with staging and puppetry choices.
“We also keep tinkering with the ending, how the audience sees the characters and their relationship with each other.”
The two linked stories are about a peasant man who discovers a samovar that he feels he must return to the czar – the ruler owned everything in his kingdom – and a peasant woman who attracts the attention of the ruler because of her intelligence.“Both pieces deal with justice, equity and compassion, with the central characters – though they’re from different worlds – realizing their similarities rather than their differences.”
The Powells, who’ve been entranced with puppetry since childhood and have shared that passion with audiences for several decades, recently worked on the film Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.
“We’d avoided TV and film work for years, since most of it is of the Muppet variety, which isn’t our style of puppetry,” notes Powell. “Here we were given problems to solve, which meant trying to figure out how to stage certain scenes.
“Our major work was animating a shelving unit of stuffed toys and having them hug one of the characters. At one point we brought in 10 other people to help us behind the scene, working rods and strings and other ways of giving life to the puppets.”
Clearly the sibs enjoy challenges. For Tea At The Palace, they’ve constructed puppets based on old toys that are suited to each character and on what he or she has to do.
“There’s one angry character who’s like a jumping jack; he’s all hard and wood. The peasant man is a rag doll whose only stiff elements are his buttons and eyes; he’ll always be pushed around and bent by those above him. The lovers in the second tale are penny woodens, popular Victorian dolls. Queen Victoria had several and apparently enjoyed dressing them up.”