Puppet master had a hand in the success of Avenue Q
FROM kids’ telly classic Pipkins to Spitting Image, the Muppets to Broadway smash Avenue Q, Nigel Plaskitt has had a hand in all of them – literally. As one of the UK’s top puppeteers he has been instrumental in bringing to life some household names, including cult favourite Monkey, from the PG Tips adverts. Now he is passing his skills on as puppet coach for Avenue Q, the Tony-award winning musical comedy that arrives at His Majesty’s Theatre next week. And Nigel reckons city audiences are in for a treat – and maybe a bit of a shock – with the laugh-aminute, rude and politically incorrect show that follows the lives of a band of hopeless characters on a New York street. He said: “You can expect to laugh a lot certainly, it is a great comedy and everybody spends the whole time laughing. “I’ve seen it maybe 125 times now in the course of the businesses and I still laugh when I see it. It’s a good evening to be had. “The style of the show is a kind of parody of Sesame Street, but a very loving parody not a bitter one “The guys who wrote it love the programme and this is their homage to it.” Even the music involved has the flavour of Sesame Street tunes about it, while not being children’s tunes. In fact, for all its roots in the kids’ world of loveable rod and glove puppets this is far from a kids show. One character even has a name not suitable for a family. “There are scenes in it you wouldn’t want to take a child to,” said Nigel. “There’s a bedroom scene and of one of the characters is obsessed with pornography, which means it’s certainly not suitable for kids.” The rude streak running through the show hasn’t stopped it winning a slew of awards and playing to packed houses. So what’s the appeal of these sweary, sex-obsessed puppets? Nigel said: “Everybody remembers or knows the Muppets, a lot of people connect with Sesame Street, so it’s really interesting seeing some of the things these puppets say, which you probably couldn’t do with an actor. “Talking about racism in the manner that they do is one example. It gives you a little more freedom to do things.” Nigel’s role with Avenue Q is to take the cast through the art of puppetry. He said: “None of the actors have experience of puppetry before they start, so I teach them how to use the puppets, stay with them during the rehearsal period then keep an eye on the show afterwards to make sure everyone is doing what they should be. “The cast coming to Aberdeen are really, really good and I had an easy ride with them.” Nigel said that often actors turn up thinking “Puppets? I can do that”. “They find out soon afterwards it’s not as easy as it looks, there’s style, technique and stamina required. It’s quite tough. “Part of the skill of the cast is they make it look effortless.” Nigel has spent a career in the world of puppetry – but it was one that happened almost by accident. His first start in puppetry was in kids show Pipkins, with Hartley Hare, back in the 1970s. “I was cast to do character voices, then they asked if would do the puppets as well,” said Nigel. “I said yes and just took it from there ... and suddenly it’s 2011.” That led to many other kids shows, including helping to set up international versions of Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, as well as films like Muppet Christmas Carol, Labyrinth and Hitchhikers’ Guide To the Galaxy. But puppetry isn’t all child’s play – Nigel loved his time as lead performer with the classic satire Spitting Image. “For the latter part of it John Major was one of mine, and Prince Edward,” he said. “There were 2,000 characters over the series. One day I should sit down and write it out, because I can never think of all the characters I did.” While he doesn’t tour with the show, Nigel does like to try and catch some performances as it travels the country but doubts he will make it to Aberdeen. “I was there 10 years ago with Doctor Dolittle, when that came round and it was a really pleasant city,” he said. “When the sun shines it just glitters with all that granite.”
LAUGHS: Broadway smash Avenue Q will be on stage at His Majesty’s Theatre next week.
A HANDY MAN TO KNOW: Puppeteer Nigel Plaskitt.