The man who lets his hands do the walking on Avenue Q

A puppet show not for the kids, Avenue Q is controversial and lots of fun. Nick Ahad spoke to the puppet master on the street.

PG Tips’ Monkey, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Spitting Image – Nigel Plaskitt has, literally, had a hand in all of them.

After training as an actor, Plaskitt found fame as the man behind several characters in the children’s programme Pipkins, which he worked on for over nine years.

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His puppetry skills were also called on by Jim Henson to lend his highly skilled hands to characters in the movie Labyrinth and in The Muppet Christmas Carol. When it comes to puppets, Plaskitt has always been a man in demand.

Which is why when the controversial puppet musical Avenue Q came to the UK, Plaskitt got a call. The show began in the minds of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx who thought the idea of a collection of down at heel puppets, in the mould of Sesame Street characters – only with much fouler mouths and more adult issues, would make a great TV show. Their idea wasn’t picked up for television, so it opened Off Broadway in 2002, transferring within a year to The Great White Way where it won several awards, including three Tony Awards.

In 2006 the show moved to London’s West End where it received rave reviews and played to sell out audiences. Finally, it is now going out on tour and coming to Yorkshire. When the show transferred to the UK, Plaskitt was asked to help train the actors on stage operate their puppets.

Having worked on shows for younger people – and the people behind Sesame Street have asked Avenue Q to make very clear that the two are in no way related – Plaskitt may not have been the most obvious choice for a production in which the puppets sing songs including Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist. However, having also worked on Spitting Image for a number of years, it turned out he had just the right sense of mischief to fit right into the Avenue Q family.

“I think the child in all of us likes to see puppets being rude,” says Plaskitt. “I’ve also been working on the tour of Peppa Pig and the thing that makes the children laugh every time, is when the pigs make grunting noises.

“I’m not sure that’s something we ever really grow out of. Everyone enjoys being a bit naughty.” The stage show has actors on stage, operating the puppets and performing their lines.

Plaskitt says people are often concerned before they come to the show that they will find it distracting to watch both actor and puppet on stage together – but again, the magic of puppetry that appeals to the child in all of us, always wins out.

“There is something about the puppets that people just can’t take their eyes off,” he says. “It’s a bit naughty, but it’s a wonderful show.”

Nigel Plaskitt’s life in puppets

For 13 years, he was one of the central performers on Spitting Image.

His work can be seen in The Muppet Treasure Island, Lost in Space and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And over 200 different characters in Mopatop’s Shop.

Avenue Q, Sheffield Lyceum, to April 2. Bradford Alhambra, June 6 to 11.