In the rainy woods of Buxton, two hardy characters are on a mission. It’s Babbling Vagabonds, braving the elements to entertain the families of the High Peak, no matter the weather.
It’s also Prentice and Dogbury, two salesmen for Madame MooMoo’s Marvellous Magical Market Stall. Dogbury is the apprentice, trying to earn the badge that will allow him to be a fully fledged salesman. Prentice tells him that the best way to make a sale is to tell a story around the product.
So we are treated to stories of an angry princess, and an uncertain youngster, stories that carry lessons in managing emotions, and gaining confidence in making decisions, all told with the delightful, inventive imagination that we’ve come to expect from Babbling Vagabonds.
Phil Coggins and Mark Hornsey are both tireless and constantly engaging as the salesmen, and have great fun with the characters in the stories. (Am I right? I'm not wrong!) It was definitely worth a trip to the woods – although I was glad I had my wellies!
The Wagon of Wonders will also be appearing at Lyme Park and Thornbridge Hall over the summer, so try and catch it on its travels.
Hidden under a duvet on the stage at the Old Clubhouse is a quirky, pyjama-clad figure. This is Mr Sleepybum, a character who alternates between high energy and dropping off to sleep (‘WAKE UP!’) who decides to take us through his surreal and very funny dreams.
Comedian Jody Kamali has a brilliant interaction with the audience of all ages, involving everyone from small children to grown adults. To visualize his dreams, he enlists the help of adult members of the audience, parents dragged up to the stage to make fools of themselves – much to the delight of their offspring. So we have fathers taking the roles of sharks and chickens, mothers as magician’s assistants or taking part in duvet covering competitions.
The fun and silliness of this show was enormously infectious and Kamali/ Sleepybum is an extremely likeable character that even the most reluctant audience participators in this packed house can’t fail to be won over by. Catch this show if you can – it’s a dream!
Produced by the experienced team behind 2022’s The Crooked Spire musical, this high-energy family show portrays a group of thirsty animals learning how to work together after their river dries up.
The Lee Wood Hotel offers a comfortable, in-the-round setting with the audience welcomed in with chocolates and cute animal masks. Rainforest noises fill the air as a small boy plays with his soft toys, the suggestion being that these are about to come to life in his imagination. Then the fun begins in earnest as the cast bounds on to the stage area and bursts into song. The stylised costumes take a little getting used to but it doesn’t take long to become acquainted with Monkey (Laura Mae Mellor), optimistic Gecko (12-year-old Eddie Waller putting in a particularly bright performance), Bat (Drew Sinclair), Camel (Simon Lewington) and Owl (Rachel Roberts), the actors’ facial expressions and skills in movement proving highly effective to differentiate each animal.
Mountains of the Moon is full of imaginative touches including shadow puppetry, a river of flowing cloth and inventive use of props; at one point a parrot is evoked simply through the flapping of a multi-coloured fan of feathers. A feast for the ears as well as the eyes, the show boasts cheery music and song - more than one of them could play an instrument - and lots of laughs too as the animals reveal their foibles and cook up ever more hare-brained schemes to bring back the rain.
Three beautiful fables are woven into the story and there are serious messages about putting aside petty rivalries in order to stand together to change things for the better. There are moving moments as the animals gather under the “magic moon”, wishing for a better future, but by the end of the show it is time to party again, the audience rising to its feet and dancing along with the tireless crew as tissue paper rain falls all around.
Stone and Water, under the leadership of Gordon MacLellan have been providing wholesome entertainment to the youth of Buxton Fringe for decades now, with their Tiny! series of craft sessions in the Pavilion Gardens.
This year, undeterred by the thunderstorms the previous day, they were back, bringing a ‘mini-beasts’ theme to this year’s ‘makes’ with visitors encouraged to draw a picture of a butterfly, a bee, or any other kind of insect – real or imagined – that might take their fancy. All materials were provided as well as reference pictures of real insects if you felt the need for realism.
I drew a picture of a bilberry bumblebee, that popular denizen of the moors around Buxton, and my companions at the event both drew butterflies. We had the option of converting these pictures into badges or rings, but elected to just keep them as postcards (they’re on the mantelpiece at home now!)
In the stresses of modern-day life, both for children and grown-ups, there’s something very calming about being able to break away from all that and enjoy something simply creative. This ‘mindfulness moment’ was immensely beneficial – long may these Tiny! events continue.
Comedian Benny Shakes became “Disability Taskmaster” for an intriguing and enlightening children’s show in which he shared what it is like to have different disabilities through a host of fun, interactive team games.
He explained that he himself has cerebral palsy with the result that, as he put it: “My brain doesn’t work with my hands and feet and I talk a bit funny”. One game recreated his experience of life by asking an adult to try to butter a piece of bread with only one hand. Meanwhile, to reflect the fact that he is in constant pain, children were invited to poke the volunteer continuously with a giant foam hand. One of the children later said that poking dad was her favourite part of the show!
I liked the fact that our host was keen to involve the adults as much as the children; I didn’t feel self-conscious not having a child with me and I think we all enjoyed having a go at drawing with our feet. Drawing with no hands is one thing; we also saw a photo of a woman with no arms who has learnt how to pilot a plane. Another popular round had the children drawing a scene described to them by the adults in the audience. It was interesting to realise how useful such descriptions could be to people with disabilities and Benny told us how when he meets someone blind or partially sighted he offers a brief physical description of himself as well as his name.
Though it was a smallish audience, the children and adults all had a great time and it was fascinating to see how even the rather unusual round of The Price is Wrong, where we guessed the price of disability equipment (whilst learning what it was), really engaged us all.
There are normally a few guests and we heard how the torrential rain had put paid to one wheelchair user’s appearance but I hope Benny Shakes returns to the Fringe to continue the conversation he has started with us all - and to give us many more laughs along the way.
Comedian Daniel Nicholas is having a birthday party and we’re all invited. Welcoming (individually) an audience covering all ages from 7- to 70-year-olds, Daniel invited us to take part in an hour of fun party games that had everyone losing their inhibitions and joining in.
Divided into two teams, we took part in silly challenges, including comedy impersonations, Chinese whispers, a spelling bee and pass the parcel, all adjudicated by Daniel, as well as Chloe, a member of Shadow Syndicate drafted in to (arbitrarily) give points after each game. I’m glad to say that I was on the winning team (by some 1000 points – the scoring was eccentric!).
Children love to see adults making fools of themselves, and adults like to be reminded of the good times they had before their inhibitions took over, and this was apparent in a show in which everyone threw themselves into the fun with aplomb. Whatever your age, give Daniel’s next performance a go – you’ll think all your birthdays have come at once!
DoDo Dramatics are a theatre company specializing in zero-waste performances, something that was wittily apparent when, greeted by actors Trudi Licence and Rhodri Mayer, we were led into the cosy surroundings of the Rotunda Squeak and beheld the wonderfully homespun set for this entertaining stroll through Ancient History – a galleon built from ice lolly sticks, a Roman senate building made of cardboard and sackcloth.
Trudi and Rhodri were joined by Melina Grace Bryant to tell the story of Cleopatra, the most powerful woman in a man’s world (although that power was obtained by marrying a succession of weak men – two of her brothers and her infant son). On the way we got a lot of interesting information about Ptolomeic society (I was especially intrigued by their toilet conventions!). It’s a complicated story, but the trio keep it moving with energy and humour.
And they had their work cut out for them as they struggled to make themselves heard over the noise of a thunder/ hail storm hammering down on the canvas roof. It was a mark of their drive that they made the most of this difficult situation and created a fun and informative show. Inevitably the shadow of Horrible Histories hangs over this show, but Dodo Dramatics bring their own, eccentric spin for a fun 40 minutes.