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A brand new puppet show has been developed, with support from LeftCoast, especially for this year’s Showzam Festival which puts a new spin on traditional Punch and Judy and offers long-term performance opportunities for local actors. The Diabolical Mr Punch is the invention of Melanie Whitehead, who is the driving force behind The Electric Sunshine Project, a new theatre company set-up specifically to trial creative ideas, artistic projects and theatre-making initiatives in the Blackpool area, but the puppet show has been a long-time in the making…

In April 2013, after leaving a full-time position in a national arts organisation, Melanie launched herself as a freelance theatre practitioner and via a twist of fate moved to South Shore. Without any real connections in the town or knowledge of local arts networks, in July of the same year, she decided to find out a bit more by spending a few days on street corners – with a clip board.

She spoke to over 130 people; a mix of residents and holiday-makers, to ask their views about the kinds of arts activities they would like to see taking place in that area. Overwhelmingly, the feedback related to family activities; things for young people to get involved in, which had a mix of traditional and modern, and “Punch and Judy” was the most non-prompted response.

Over the last couple of years, she has been processing this feedback when a part-time contract with the National Theatre and a role in the sell-out tour of War Horse enabled her to make some great connections in the world of puppetry and for ideas to start taking shape. After a period of research on the history, performance styles and politics of the show, she developed a draft script and started to assemble a potential company of creatives with a great collection of national profile and international accomplishments.

In 2015 she applied for LeftCoast’s Future Popular Grant (designed to enable small-scale arts projects in the area) and brought together the new company for the first time on Monday 4 January 2016 at FY Creatives in Blackpool: Director Matthew Forbes is an actor/puppeteer and was Puppetry Director on War Horse Holland and Berlin; Puppet Designer/Creator Monica Corder also worked on War Horse and has developed Special Effects on projects including Cold Play videos and the latest Star Wars film; Early-career Sound Designer Rachel Cullen and her Video Designer colleague Sophie Johannot have done significant work at Edinburgh Festival.

However, for the piece to have a continuing life after the festival in February, it was important to also engage with local creatives and so a couple of young performers from Blackpool & Fylde College who had a great work ethic and for whom the project would offer an interesting and fun challenge were hand-picked; Ashley Beck and Elle Lamb.

Their task was, over the course of a week, to create a new version of a traditional puppet show using a range of different styles of puppets, live performers, projection and sound. On the Saturday morning, a select group of theatre professionals were invited to watch the work-in-progress, to give feedback. One said of the piece: “It’s like Tim Burton meets Mighty Boosh – for kids!” which is not a bad recommendation.

The puppets are currently in Monica’s workshop being built, the performers’ craft is being honed via weekly rehearsals, the sound and video files are being timed and cued and Matthew is planning his return visit to Blackpool to see the show into The Winter Gardens and finally the world-premier of The Diabolical Mr Punch (previously entitled The Tragical, Comical, Diabolical Mr Punch) will take place at Showzam on Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 February 2016! There will be three shows on each day in The Gillows Bar. Saturday at 12 noon , 1.30pm and 3pm, Sunday at 11am, 12.30pm and 2pm, all shows are FREE and organisers would welcome any feedback about the show to ensure the piece can continue to entertain local audiences after the festival.

Rootitootitooit! Think you know Punch and Judy? Think Again…

Find out more about Showzam! at www.showzam.co.uk

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