Heading out on a bleak November Saturday afternoon to spend an hour in the library may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, unless of course you are Roy Cropper from Coronation Street. Libraries are fantastic places, but you could argue that being in one at the weekend as darkness takes hold, is not, shall we say, living the dream. Sometimes though, when dark wraps its self around the world, magic can happen. The tales and stories contained within the books in the library spring to life, crawl out from the pages, shake off the dust, and for a very short time join us in our world. I witnessed this magic on Saturday, I was surrounded by Dragons and Kings, Princes and Valkyries, sparkling treasure and Viking gods, all within the walls of Lea Bridge Library. Magic of course, doesn’t happen by its self, it needs someone to conjure it, and this magic was conjured by the folk at the E17 Puppet Project.
The Puppet Project has been around for a little while now. The small team have been creating and delivering workshops and shows all over the borough, in schools, libraries and hospitals. The show I saw was called Sigurd the Volsung, and was commissioned by the William Morris Gallery. It’s based on an old Icelandic tale which was translated in to English By Morris (was there nothing that man couldn’t do) hence the connection to the gallery. The show was created as a one off, only to be performed at the Gallery, but having secured funding, the Puppet Project took it on tour around the borough. The tale of Sigurd, is not a short one. I was amazed that the team had even attempted to condense it down in to 45 minutes and present it in a way that kids would understand. But that they did, and not only did the kids understand it, they absolutely loved it.
When I arrived at the upstairs room in Lea Bridge Library there were only a few people in the audience. Before long though, every seat was taken, mainly by excitable youngsters who could be heard telling each other “there’s a real dragon in this play”. As the lights went down and silence fell, a small girl in front of me gasped and whispered to her friend “Oh my god, I’m so excited”. The tale starts with a beautiful princess who has a number of suitors. She gets married, her husband goes to war with a rival king, his sword gets broken and re-made, the princess has a baby, there are Gods, a dragon, and a Valkyrie with split ends. All of this is presented by two puppeteers, on a simple waist high set, using puppets and narration to walk us through the story.
As you may expect, you can’t take photos during the show, but there are some magical moments. The warring kings, a visit by the Viking god Odin, and a bloody fight with the dragon all stood out. I have to say though, the Valkyrie with split ends, played by the male puppeteer, really had me in stitches. Relentless trips to Valhalla were playing havoc with her hair, and Odin, well, he was a bossy boots. I think I enjoyed her tale more than the little ones did. At the end of the show, the kids get the chance to meet the puppets and have their photograph taken with them. It was great to watch the kids talking directly to the puppets, disbelief completely suspended, taken in by the magic of the story and live performance. This show was story telling as it should be, simple, but magical.
I had a good chat with the team behind the project after the show. They are genuinely enthusiastic and passionate about what they do. They told me that they first worked with shadow puppets, but because of the performance space they were given at the gallery, they had to try something different for this show. Sigurd the Volsung took just over a month to put together, which considering the complexity of the story is pretty amazing. The team want to create and tour more shows, and I hope they get the funding to do it, as this short piece of puppet theatre was truly magical. If you and your kids haven’t see it yet, it’s not too late, the tour continues at Leytonstone Library on the 4th – 6th of December, and best of all, the tickets are free. If you would like to know more about the E17 Puppet Project, check their website. And if you can, click on the donate link to help them to continue to spread a bit of magic around Waltham Forest.