Mysterious travelling puppet show could be coming to a village near you

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Since medieval times puppets have been popping up in temporary booths to delight and horrify crowds in equal measure.

Travelling minstrels and other entertainers often used glove puppets and marionettes to perform versions of popular stage plays, while in Elizabethan England it was not unheard of for a clergyman preaching Christianity to brandish a devil puppet to illustrate the perils of evil-doing.

This summer that lively old tradition will be revived by a touring troupe of puppeteers called Mr Clevver's Puppet Company, who will be taking a new piece of work commissioned by National Theatre Wales to some of the most remote corners of Wales.

One of the puppets from the show Nuclear Family. Photo: Mr Clevver's Puppet Company

Nuclear Family is inspired by a character from the cult post-apocalyptic 1980 novel Riddley Walker by American Russell Hoban and is aimed at delighting audiences of all ages.

The tour will see the company's quaint truck and trailer rolling into villages and towns across Wales with shows planned everywhere from castles and abbeys to forests and beaches with live music to accompany the performance. But there will also be surprise shows in special locations planned en route.

The company was founded by Heather and Ivan Morison who represented Wales at the 52nd Venice Biennale.

I caught up with Ivan, just days after the current tour's first show in Cilgerran Castle, Pembrokeshire.

He said: "This is our second tour as the company carried out their first tour across remote settlements in Tasmania from 2009 to 2012 so we got a real sense of what worked for audiences.

"The principle of Mr Clevver is that he arrives in unexpected places unannounced. It's that sense of an outsider coming into a community and arousing suspicion but then something really magical and wonderful happens and then he leaves with many things unexplained, thus keeping the mystery alive.

"Wales seemed like the right place for this sort of show because people are very open to that sort of idea and so far have been very welcoming."

The company's trailer and trucks. Photo: Mr Clevver's Puppet Company

The show was commissioned by National Theatre Wales and also has support from Cadw, who are allowing the company to stop at any of their sites to perform throughout the summer.

Ivan added: "The story reflects things people have to live through and responds to life in rural areas.

"The great thing about puppetry is you are able to say darker things that you wouldn't be able to convey in other modes of theatre, so there are bits that will make children laugh, but adults might be left thinking about something altogether different.

"Nuclear Family examines some fundamental human truths, while also poking fun at governmental and religious power structures.

"It sees a child learn to become an adult, but an adult struggling to remain afloat within the life he has made for himself."

Puppets from Nuclear Family. Photo: Mr Clevver's Puppet Company

Other fixed dates in the tour include: Friday 9 August, 6pm at Devil's Bridge, Ceredigion; Friday 16 August, 3pm and 6pm at Fairbourne, Gwynedd; Friday 23 August, 12 noon at Amlwch, Anglesey; Saturday 7 September, 3pm at Coity Castle, Bridgend; and Friday 13 Sept, 3pm at St Davids Bishop's Palace, Pembrokeshire.

There will also be a whole host of surprise performances popping up in undisclosed locations.

Tickets are available on the day, on site and are priced as a donation. For more information on the show visit nationaltheatrewales.org/nuclear-family.

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