Review: Tea at the Palace (Pupetmongers)

by George Perry

David and Ann Powell with friend

A puppet is born every minute!

Tea at the Palace (Puppetmongers) is currently onstage in Toronto at The Tarragon Theatre Extra Space.   It is great fun for parents, children, families and single people wishing they had a family.  The play retells two old Russian fables using puppets.

Puppetmongers have been performing their "Annual Holiday Tradition" at the Tarragon Theatre for 21 years. It was founded by the brother and sister team of Ann and David Powell in 1974. 

Their love, skill and craftsmanship are obvious and infectious.  The audience was mostly composed of families, and parents seemed as transfixed as their children.  One small girl in the front row was having so much fun that she nearly walked onstage a couple of times.  I think her parents were torn about whether to join her or stop her. 

The two stories are Russian tales involving justice, humanity and love.  In the first, a peasant is brought before the Tsar.  The second tale was first recorded by Russian monks in the 11th Century: a wise peasant girl catches the eye of the Tsar in this part.

There are a great many things to like about Tea at the Palace.  There is a synergy of how all aspects of the play work together.  The music of David Anderson and Nuno Cristo really helped to create a magical mood.  The props onstage kept transforming into different objects before our eyes.  The costumes of the Powells are great as well, also helping to cast the magical spell. 

Sharon Weisbam scripted Tea at the Palace with the Powells and directs a performance that has fantastic flow.  There was even sweet incense wafting through the theatre helping to maintain the magic.

There is “the exact measure” of everything in this show.

Seeing the Powells onstage is a holiday gift.  David and Ann manipulate all the puppets and props.  The puppets range from six inches to six feet.  The Powells designed them, based on antique dolls.  The human-sized puppets have handles in their backs, a technique they invented.  It’s especially mesmerizing to see the larger scale puppets come to life.

Puppetmongers have toured the world with their puppets and plays, and have won several prestigious awards.  They are active in the community, performing in Toronto and Southern Ontario as advisors and mentors, and of course performers.

After the show, there is a one hour puppet making workshop for children aged 5-12.

Details:

– Tea at the Palace runs from Dec 18-Jan 1.  Matinees at 2PM with additional matinees at 4:30 on Dec 29 and Dec 30
– Tickets are $13 to $18, with family bundles $52
– Shows are performed at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space, 30 Bridgeman Avenue, Toronto.
– For more information or to purchase tickets, call 416-531-1827 or visit www.tarragontheatre.com

Photo of David and Ann Powell

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