Pup­pet mas­ter had a hand in the suc­cess of Av­enue Q

Evening Express (City Final) - The Guide - - Arts And Stage - By Scott Beg­bie

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.

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