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Renovations for puppet theatre with sights set on Christmas 2021 opening

PUBLISHED: 06:00 25 September 2020

The creative team behind the Well Walk Puppet Theatre from left Dylan McNeil, Zina Drouche and Marina Turmo. Picture: Polly Hancock

The creative team behind the Well Walk Puppet Theatre from left Dylan McNeil, Zina Drouche and Marina Turmo. Picture: Polly Hancock

Polly Hancock

In the front room of a former pottery shop in Hampstead lie 28 wooden theatre seats from 1930s Prague. They have witnessed Nazi occupation, Soviet troops quashing a revolution and the celebrations that met the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Now the rows lie empty once again. This time because of a pandemic.

The ground floor of the former Well Walk Pottery is currently being used to store the reclaimed theatre seating which will, after building works, be installed in the auditorium downstairs. Pictured from left Dylan McNeil, Zina Drouche and Marina Turmo. Picture: Polly HancockThe ground floor of the former Well Walk Pottery is currently being used to store the reclaimed theatre seating which will, after building works, be installed in the auditorium downstairs. Pictured from left Dylan McNeil, Zina Drouche and Marina Turmo. Picture: Polly Hancock

Zina Drouche and Dylan McNeil, and their creative manager Marina Turmo had hoped to open Well Walk Puppet Theatre this summer. Yet coronavirus made them reconsider. They have now brought forward significant works to the shop on the corner of Gayton Road and Willow Road, meaning the trio hope it will open at Christmas 2021.

“Of course we’re disappointed, but there’s nothing we can do,” Zina told the Ham&High. The original plan had been to open for a few months this year to test the waters before closing for the renovations. The puppet theatre opened for a debut show on Halloween last year, with Zina and Marina earning rave reviews as queues stretched down the street.

All three of them live within sight of the shop, and they put on a show for their neighbours from their front garden during lockdown, but admitted “you can’t get the same rapport from an audience”.

“The first time we arrived at the pottery, we felt it was this beautiful corner shop and we wanted to bring it to life,” Marina said.

Zina Drouche, theatre director, and Marina Turmo, creative manager, outside the Well Walk Puppet Theatre. Picture: Polly HancockZina Drouche, theatre director, and Marina Turmo, creative manager, outside the Well Walk Puppet Theatre. Picture: Polly Hancock

Dylan added: “We want to create this feeling when you enter this place, it must feel as though it has always been here.”

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The couple are in it for the long haul and hope their children, aged eight and 10 will take it on when they’re old enough.

“If you look at the mural outside the theatre, it shows that it goes in 60 year cycles,” Dylan said. “We want to be here in 60 years.”

Creative director Zina’s first foray in puppet theatres in Britain came when she was forced to come up with an idea for a party for her daughter, Misty’s, birthday. She originally worked as a costume designer in Paris before moving to Highgate.

“So my daughter says it’s her birthday and we have to do something, it’s a big deal. So I made a scene and characters and put on a puppet show. All the kids said ‘wow, this is amazing’”.

Even with the delay, Zina and Marina are worried about how it may work if social distancing is still in place when it opens in 2021 but both are eager to open the doors.

Zina said: “Maybe it’s a sign that we will have to take time. We can’t complain with the situation because we are lucky.”


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