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Owners of new Well Walk Puppet Theatre talk about plans for children's bookshop, cafe and theatre

PUBLISHED: 14:06 09 August 2019

The new owner of Well Walk Bookshop and Theatre Zina Drouche with her daughter Misty McNeil. Picture: Dylan McNeil

The new owner of Well Walk Bookshop and Theatre Zina Drouche with her daughter Misty McNeil. Picture: Dylan McNeil

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A husband-and-wife duo are hoping to create a "French corner" for Hampstead after being given the green light to convert Well Walk Pottery into a new puppet theatre and children's bookshop.

Well Walk PotteryWell Walk Pottery

Zina Drouche and her husband Dylan McNeil have been permission by Camden Council to open a children's theatre holding 50 people in the basement. They will turn a space at the back of the former pottery workshop into a café and the front of the shop, which faces onto Willow Road and Gayton Road into a children's bookshop.

For the couple who have lived in Hampstead for ten years it's a project that they hope will bring a slice of their home country to the area.

Dylan said: "We want it to be a French corner in Hampstead. There is a lot of French people and Francophiles here and particularly with the bookshop, we want to give a different offering to what's there already.

"There are important books for us when we were kids that we want to sell. Books open up a window for us as children."

Three members of the family that will be behind the new puppet theatre to take over Well Walk Pottery, Dylan McNeil, Zina Drouche and their daughter Misty. Picture: Dylan McNeilThree members of the family that will be behind the new puppet theatre to take over Well Walk Pottery, Dylan McNeil, Zina Drouche and their daughter Misty. Picture: Dylan McNeil

Dylan, who works as a film producer and director said that there will be readings and arts and poetry workshops, including some for children with special educational needs.

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Well Walk Pottery, which opened in the 1950s closed earlier this year. Its former owner Christopher Magarshack died at the start of 2018.

The workshop's new incarnation won't be the first time Zina has run one in Hampstead. She held weekend performances at Petit Pan, which closed in Hampstead High Street last year. She had previously worked as a costume designer in France.

Three of the people involved with Zina Drouche's previous puppet shows. Natalia Baryshovets, who played the piano, Zina, and Marina Turmo, who was responsible for acting and design. Picture: Joanna BerginThree of the people involved with Zina Drouche's previous puppet shows. Natalia Baryshovets, who played the piano, Zina, and Marina Turmo, who was responsible for acting and design. Picture: Joanna Bergin

When Petit Pan shut its doors, they looked for a venue of their own and though it was "perfect" when Well Walk Pottery came onto the market.

Zina and Dylan have two children, aged seven and nine. As parents in Hampstead, they already know their customer base well.

"Everyone's excited by this," said Dylan. "We are thinking about this as parents in terms of what kind of place can work. That is why we are designing this as our first customers."

The cafe will look to revive the French tradition of "Gouter", a sweet after-school snack. Georgina Worthington, who previously ran Highgate High Tea until 2013 will be getting involved in running it.

"There's no child friendly places nearby where you can get a crossaint or pain au chocolat after school. We'll be doing really nice, healthy pancakes and waffles," he said.

The Well Walk Bookshop and Theatre will open next year.

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