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Hit musical Avenue Q brings laughter and puppets to Bromley

PUBLISHED: 13:47 03 September 2015 | UPDATED: 13:47 03 September 2015

Nigel Plaskitt with Monkey.

Nigel Plaskitt with Monkey.

Archant

The fuzzy friends will be at the Churchill Theatre.

The idea of a show which features puppets and puppeteers working side by side, without any attempt at hiding it or creating ventriloquy, was pretty revolutionary.

But hit musical Avenue Q does just that. Following West End and Broadway success, the show will be bringing a number of fuzzy friends to the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, as part of its UK tour.

The show follows the adventures of bright-eyed college graduate Princeton - who makes his way to New York with big dreams, but a small bank account.

He soon discovers that Avenue Q is the only neighbourhood in his price range, and finds himself moving in with some quirky characters including out of work comedian Brian and his therapist fiance Christmas Eve and a kind-hearted slacker called Nicky, who lives with Republican Rod.

The puppet cast are brought to life by an ensemble cast of 11 performers.

The show features pupeteering as it has rarely been seen before in mainstream theatre.

And what surprised creators was how audiences have focused on the puppets, rather than the puppeteers, during the performances.

And it is no mean feat to control the puppets.

“It’s actually a really difficult thing to do,” explained Nigel Plaskitt, who has been operating puppets and training puppeteers for some 40 years and worked on various productions of Avenue Q.

“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. There is a lot going on,” he added.

“In some ways it’s a good idea not to have had any prior experience; then you have no preconceptions. You come to it with a clean slate.”

It was one of the Sesame Street team in New York who suggested that Mr Plaskitt work on the London transfer of Avenue Q, produced by Cameron Mackintosh.

“This wasn’t a show attacking Sesame Street, or even mocking it; rather, it showed how much affection people had for it,” he said.

He has been working alongside puppet-maker Paul Jomain and has tried to make the Avenue Q puppets as user-friendly as possible.

“Operating puppets can be very tiring. Paul’s puppets are very light to hold but even so it can be quite uncomfortable being in the same position for 20 minutes at a time,” said Mr Plaskitt.

“You have to train your muscles to stretch into the positions they need to hold. It’s a matter of building up your strength and not going too fast. We’ve had to bring the physios in a few times over the years.”

The current tour requires 34 hand-stitched puppets - and making and maintaining the puppets has become a full-time job for Mr Jomain.

“The clothes for Lucy and Kate Monster are made by hand, but the boys can be fitted out in the high street. Over the years, I’ve developed an eye for what works and what doesn’t,” he said.

Avenue Q will be at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, from September 8 to 13. To book you can visit www.atgtickets.com/bromley.

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