Inside the alcoves of a medieval church, puppets sit on shelves waiting for their turn to be brought to life, to perform in the spotlight and to make children smile and laugh. The 15th century flint church of St James' at Whitefriars, is the characterful home of a collection of puppets, all waiting patiently for their chance to tell a story.
Image: Norwich Puppet Theatre on tour at The Lemon Tree in Aberdeen; photo by Andy Catlin
The building is as unique as its puppets and has its own story to tell; standing on a roundabout on the city's busy inner ring road, the redundant church survived the bombing of World War Two when most of the immediate area was destroyed. Deconsecrated almost 50 years ago, the church was given a new lease of life when it was converted to accommodate Norwich Puppet Theatre. The theatre was founded in 1979 by Ray and Joan De Silva as a permanent home for their touring puppet company, it was opened to the public in December 1980. Today the theatre is one of just three building-based puppet theatres in England, it's also a registered charity dedicated to creative learning for all ages.
Image: 'Oddly', photo by Andi Sapey
Over the years, fairytale favourites and boo-hiss baddies have taken to the stage to move audiences to emotion – young and old alike. George and the Dragon, Thumbelina, The Pied Piper, Hansel and Gretel and many more have taught children life lessons though the art of entertaining puppetry.
One of the joys of the puppet theatre is that audiences leave with more than just a story told, a visit to the Puppet Theatre is a real experience. TripAdvisor glows with reviews of "utterly beautiful", "mesmerizing" and "a real must-see in Norwich".
It's not just about the stage shows, the theatre is dedicated to providing creative learning for every generation with a diverse programme of hands-on experiences, workshops and masterclasses. Visitors can sign-up for short courses in puppet-making, art, sewing, clay modelling, collage and more. There's a warm sense of community at the heart of Norwich Puppet Theatre with close links to local schools and a full programme of shows and workshops geared especially towards groups. Children love nothing more than a day out of the classroom but a visit to the Puppet Theatre can be extra special with the chance to join a 'Show and Tell' session after the performance where they can meet the puppets and find out how they are made and how they come to life with the help of light and sound.
The programme is packed with a mixture of shows and workshops but many sell out very quickly so, if you see something you like, make sure you book early! Here's our top five summer season highlights
Family Puppet Workshop
Fantastic Families is a chance for all the family to come together to make puppets. Mums, dads, grandparents and aunties and uncles can get involved in making their own puppet character. This workshop takes place on Saturday 5th August and tickets are £9.50 per person; suitable for ages three and over.
This three-day workshop starts on Thursday 10th August and is suitable for ages seven and over. Children will explore the magical world of puppetry from puppet making to performing. On the final afternoon, there will be a chance to showcase their new skills in a special puppet show for family and friends. The workshop costs £45 per person.
Children can join this workshop to create their own pet puppet on Tuesday 15th August. Make a likeness of your own pet or the pet you've always dreamed of owning – if only your parents would let you! This workshop is open to children over the age of five and costs £9.50. If your child gets the puppet bug and wants to attend every class going, make sure you pick up a Children's Puppet Making Workshop loyalty card at the Box Office – if you collect five stamps they can get their next workshop for free!
The theatre opens its doors so that visitors can have a free look behind the scenes on Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th September. This is your chance to see the historic building and view the impressive puppet collection. Drop in on Saturday 10am-4pm and Sunday 12pm-4pm. Photo by Andi Sapey.
Little Tots – Zoom Zoom to the Mooooooon!
This one is just for the littlest puppeteers, aged 18 months to five years. Tots can get busy – and messy – exploring the world of rockets, space, planets and aliens in a sensory workshop with music, songs, lights and fun materials to play with. Zoom Zoom is a workshop with Sophie Fox and takes place on Monday 25th September, tickets are £12 which includes entry for one child plus one accompanying adult.
COMING TO VISIT?
Greater Anglia have Advance fares from £10 one way between London Liverpool Street and Norwich. Trains run every 30 minutes. Greater Anglia also serves Colchester, Ipswich and Diss on the Norwich line. Direct trains also run from Cambridge.
East Midlands Trains runs services from Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham.
Flights into Norwich served from Edinburgh, Manchester, Exeter, Aberdeen, Jersey*, Guernsey* and Amsterdam.
To plan a trip to Norwich check out our website www.visitnorwich.co.uk