More than mere puppets

KEEPING YOUNG children entertained is no child’s play as any parent would vouch. Something that puppeteers Noel Lambert and his wife Eva know only too well. And Noel who has been in the business for over 35 years has no qualms admitting...

By Ambica Sachin (Staff Reporter)

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Published: Fri 16 Feb 2007, 11:57 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 12:01 AM

“If children get distracted during one of our shows, it can only mean one thing – we are not doing our job right.”

The Ireland based couple are in the city to perform their 40 minute puppet show, ‘Dinin and the Naughty Dog’ for children in Dubai and Sharjah. First time visitors to the emirate, the couple are totally taken in by the sights and sounds of the place. “It all seems like a huge movie set”, enthuses Eva who has briefly passed through Dubai way back in 1974 on her way to perform in South Africa.

“We were very nervous initially when we came to perform in Dubai. Irish kids love puppetry, but we were not sure how well it would translate with the children out here,” admits Noel.

But their fears proved unfounded as children of all nationalities have only been completely bowled over by the antics of this animated couple and their beloved puppets.

Laughter is universal

“What we have found in our experience is that children all over the world laugh at the same thing,” Noel avers sagely. He points out that while performing for children one needs to be extra alert since unlike adults who might gloss over minor hitches and applaud politely at the end of it all, children are very observant and can be very critical.

Add to that the fact that the attention span of kids is very limited. Most of Noel Lambert productions are around 40-45 minutes in duration precisely because of this. “After around 40 minutes children tend to get distracted,” says Noel.

Bringing a smile to the face of kids

Besides holding shows for children in general, the Lamberts also put up a special show for the disabled children of Al Noor Centre. “There is a certain magic about puppets that all children relate to,” Noel explains.

He recollects a performance in Ireland at the end of which a mother came and told him how she was taken aback by the sight of her son who suffered from Attention Deficient Disorder sitting down quietly and focusing on the puppets. In another instance an 18-year-old boy who had never spoken in his life started talking to the puppets by the end of the show.

“Such incidents make it all worth our while,” says Noel with a smile.

Let the show begin

Putting up a puppet show is just like planning any other theatrical production, except that everything is on a smaller scale.

First comes the idea, then Eva starts making rough sketches on paper, Noel writes down the dialogues with emphasis on visual imagery and action than the words. The music is composed, more sketches are made and the puppets come alive. With the onset of computer technology, things which took so much money and time earlier can now be done in an instant, they explain.

The whole process may take anything from 3 to 4 months to complete. “The best think about puppetry is that it incorporates all kinds of art – painting, dancing, miming and singing," points out Noel.

And what happens to the puppets once the show is over? They are saved for future appearances. Most of them are recycled and as Eva says with emphasis, "You just can't throw away a puppet. It’s just not done.”

Noel who has worked on many original productions admits that they are greatly influenced by children’s cartoons like Tom and Jerry and Disney.

From reel to real

“Performing for a live audience is so much more challenging as well as satisfying," say the couple who after years of conducting shows on television decided to take their art literally to the streets in 2005.

“We were just tired of TV. We were working from 10 to 10 six days a week, with time only to eat in between. There was no connection with the audience, no feedback or live reaction to tell us how we were doing,” remembers Eva. And of course the money is so much better in touring, adds Eva. “Now we have more money as well as freedom to see places,” she says happily.

But Noel reminisces that while they were working on television each week they used to receive 1000s of letters from fans. “Nowadays people don’t write. But still it is nice to get the feedback from the audience immediately. I still remember the awe with which a child exclaimed at the start of a show, ‘Mummy, they are REAL cartoons!’” Another time at the end of a show, a child from the audience came up to ask Noel in all seriousness-“How do you make your puppets talk?”

Into the future

After their stint in Dubai, the couple will return to Ireland to work on the last of the puppet trilogy, ‘Ping and Pong’s Puppet Circus’. They also plan on buying a barn in Ireland where they can set up their puppet production and venture into producing DVDs.

On the anvil is also a puppet show on Sindbad for which they are scouting for ideas in Dubai’s souks. Noel is already planning the music for the show which will be based on Arabain tunes.

The couple are looking forward to travelling more and incorporating more music into their puppet show. “We are trying to eliminate dialogues and make our show more visual and musical, so language will no longer be a barrier for people to understand the show,” explains Noel.

And for all those in Dubai who want to know more about the art of puppetry, Noel and Evan will be back in April to conduct a workshop on puppetry where every aspect of the trade from pre-production to the final staging of a real show will be held for interested people.

Love among puppeteers

Noel Lambert comes from an illustrious family of puppeteers. Both his parents were puppeteers and so he along with his 9 siblings were drawn into the family business so to speak from an extremely young age. “So young that I don’t even recollect exactly when it was,” laughs Noel. From 1969 to 82, the family was involved in producing a show for the Irish TV. In 1972, they founded the legendary 300-seater Lambert Puppet Theatre in Ireland. It was while auditioning for a television show that Noel met Eva who was the Puppet director of the show.

Born in Sweden, Eva, a professional puppeteer herself was a member of the internationally acclaimed ‘Companie Philippe Genty.’ At the age of 23 she came over to Ireland on a holiday and decided to stay put. The couple who have worked together for over 17 years have been married for the past three years.

Show timings

DININ and The Naughty Dog

Venue: Qanat Al Qasba (06-5560777) this evening; Dubai Community Theatre (04-3414777), Mall of the Emirates today at 15:00 and tomorrow at 15:30 and 17:00

Tickets for the shows at Dubai Community Theatre will be sold at the box office there or on line with ITP Box Office for Dh35

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