Moving Parts Puppetry Festival

So despite a long week, headed off to try the delights of the Moving Parts: Newcastle Puppetry Festival on Friday. Founded in 2017 and running every two years (at present), the festival runs for nine days and offers a range of shows across the city, from city centre parades to workshops and events, including an all-day free event in Ouseburn. Unfortunately, while I would have loved to have seen more of it, a slew of prior commitments meant I only managed to squeeze in a couple of shows. (Review here.)

The Seed Carriers by Stephen Mottram was probably what most people think of when they think of traditional puppetry: traditional jointed marionettes, a dark stage, the puppeteer mostly half hidden. It was beautiful to look at, intricately designed and oddly moving – it’s amazing how fast people humanise inanimate objects, and when bad things befell the poor puppets, there were proper groans from the audience. I was also excited to be trying out another new venue – Dance City – which so far I haven’t managed to visit. I’m no expert on dance, as you may have guessed, but it seems to have an interesting mix of shows, as well as hosting classes (there’s a barre pilates class I am keen to try), so I am betting I will be back.

Just round the corner at Alphabetti was Seaside Terror. As one of the main venues, Alphabetti was properly tricked out for the festival: the bar was full of puppets, there was a puppet caravan parked outside (and an outdoor, large scale puppet show was held as a taster before the main event), and I must admit I was easily tempted into buying a notebook at the cute little merch stall inside, manned by Kerrin, who I later discover is the artistic director of the festival (and who agreed to let me take his photo). (I also donated a ton of books to the theatre’s bookshop, so was pleased to clear some space on my groaning shelves).

I enjoyed this show more – I enjoyed the atmospherics and cleverness of Seed Carriers, but there is only so much I can handle without dialogue – though weirdly its seaside bawdiness made me oddly homesick for Brighton. I did end up chatting merrily to both some of the audience and, afterwards, some of the volunteers, which was a fascinating way to find out more not just about the festival but about the kind of shows people in Newcastle go to, and how they feel about the various theatres – that stuff always interests me.

Plus: I went home with a notebook. So – always a win.

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Bacon Knees and Sausage Fingers at Alphabetti

Maybe it’s my vegetarianism, but the title of this show really put me off, as did some of the artwork: I loved the ‘minifig’ poster (see below) but pictures of blokes with bacon hanging from their knees made me think this was going to be some absurdist farce, which is very much not my thing. However, I was lined up to review it (see here), so dutifully went along – and am very glad I did, because it’s a corker of a show.

I always like Alphabetti: the bar is friendly, welcoming and lined with books (and they have a dog!). They put on an interesting programme of shows, and seem very committed to nurturing local writers – each week of the Bacon Knees run has a ‘reaction piece’ commissioned to be performed right after it. It’s a shame that my schedule has prevented me from going more since I have got back, and that everything I have wanted to see – and there have been a few shows on my radar – has been some sort of scheduling clash.

Based on this show, I am missing out. It’s a darkly funny and often moving look at the lives of two misfits, with strong performances and sharp, tight writing. At only an hour long it never outstays its welcome, and even with the aftershow I was home by 10 – not bad for a week night! They are also offering Pay What You Feel, making the show accessible to even the most straitened finances: get yourselves along!

Cuddling at Alphabetti

One of my oft-stated reasons for relocating was to reconnect with the local arts scene, and one of the venues I was most excited to visit was Alphabetti.

Everything I had read about this little theatre seemed right up my alley – a commitment to community and new writing and a slightly ramshackle ‘let’s do the show right here’ vibe. I admit, I was seeking something to replace my beloved Marlborough in Brighton (and given that an upcoming show is entitled Seymour Mace Gets Sucked Off By God, I had high hopes).

On first visit, I was not disappointed. The location threw me slightly – it’s in a building I used to walk past every day from my mum’s, which triggered one of those unexpected emotional wobbles that seem to constantly ambush me these days. But inside, it’s a delight.

Since bookshelves and fairy lights are basically my core aesthetic, it will come as little surprise I loved it. The bar is compact and cosy (the rain meant the outdoor seating wasn’t getting much love), and the bookshelves offer a range of preloved books for swap or sale, or to browse at your leisure: I get the feeling this is the sort of place you wouldn’t get dirty looks if you hunkered down for the afternoon with a book and a brew.

The staff are friendly: when I asked if I was allowed to take my drink in, the response was ‘we encourage it’, which won them points. The toilets are labelled ‘sitting down’ and ‘standing up’, thereby smartly embracing gender inclusivity while also removing the risk of accidentally walking in on some stranger with their cock out at a urinal (I am looking at you, Marlborough!)

There was also a dog wandering freely, which is very much a Brighton vibe and one I approve of. (Apologies for slightly crappy picture).

The show I saw was by new company Circ Motif. (You can read my review here). Called The Art of Cuddling and other things, it was a pleasing mix of dance and humour by a personable bunch, though my experience was hampered slightly by poor sightlines and a slightly smelly studio (or slightly smelly audience member – there was some debate about this amongst my fellow travellers as we left). But it was exactly the kind of show you want from this sort of venue: unusual, offbeat, a little challenging and blessedly short, and it’s a company I will be keeping an eye on.

I’m already planning my return visit.