Interview: Avenue Q’s Nigel Plaskitt | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Avenue Q is a hugely successful musical, it’s inventive use of puppets, animated by unconcealed puppeteers, alongside human actors alongside glorious writing, a brilliant sense of humour and superb songs have made provided it with a lasting legacy. The show is out on tour again, taking in the Tyne Theatre & Opera House, Newcastle on Friday 15th and Saturday 16th April. We chatted to puppet consultant Nigel Plaskitt to find out more about Avenue, his time on Spitting Image, his role as Monkey opposite Johnny Vegas and more…

Avenue Q has been on tour for almost 2 years now. How is it going?
Like a dream.  For me this is year 10 with Avenue Q having been with the show since it came to London. It’s great that we are coming back to the North East.  Newcastle is one of my favourite cities.  The tour on the road right now has one of the best casts we’ve had – and I’ve seen many.  I’ve seen the show around 200 times and I’m still laughing.  I’m glad it wasn’t a tragedy!!

What’s your favourite thing about the show going on tour?
I don’t tour with the show full time, but I get involved in the casting process of the show, lead workshops and stay with the cast all throughout the rehearsal process, keeping an eye on them. And then I see the show every three to four weeks.

It’s funny, rude and a lot of fun to be involved with.

Could you tell us a bit about the show for anyone who has never seen it?
It’s a great show, very funny but definitely not for children! It’s an adult take on Sesame Street, featuring characters who might have been in that show, and what happens to them when they grow up and leave home to go to university. During the show they find themselves in situations that most people can identify with. It’s funny, rude and a lot of fun to be involved with.

What drew you to working on Avenue Q?
I got to know a puppet performer in New York called Peter, so when Avenue Q was brought to the UK, Peter was asked if he knew anyone who was a puppet performer who could also do the training. As luck would have it, I was the only person he knew in the UK, so I got the job on the West End version and that was in 2005, so I’ve worked on it for over ten years now.

Do you find there’s a difference between theatre work and the TV or film work you’ve done in the past?
One big difference is the immediate response.  You get to hear the audience react and that’s something I miss in TV and film.  There are pros and cons on both sides.  TV and film work is always moving on and changing – however Avenue Q can be like that too.  Each new cast bringing something new.

What influences your work most?
Working on Spitting Image was extraordinary. It was so cutting edge. You’d go to work the next day and everyone would be talking about it, on the bus, on the train, in the office. It was such a buzz.

As technology pushes on, enabling new things to be done, do you find that affects the role of a puppeteer?
There was a moment when CG threatened to take over but then there was a bit of a regeneration and ‘the real thing’ has become popular again.  I worked on The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy and Garth Jennings – the director – wanted everything to be real so there were giant Vogons all over the set.  Better for the actors to work with than a tennis ball on the end of a stick!  Incidentally Garth was the director that originated the Monkey commercials with Johnny Vegas – a job I love to do.

And finally, what has the rest of 2016 got in store for you? Are there any exciting new ventures in the pipeline?
Yes.  I’m producing and performing in a new internet pre-school puppet series Monty and Co from the creators of the ’70’s ITV show Pipkins which should be online this autumn.  Having a great time… and probably more Avenue Q.  Go and see it.  You will laugh!!

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As an extra bonus, we also managed to chat with one of the stars of Avenue Q Kate Monster, to hear about the show, the tour and a little bit more besides…

How did you get started in theatre?
Well Avenue Q is really what got me on stage! Before that I was just minding my own business, living on Avenue Q and working as a Kindergarten teaching assistant. Then someone decided to write a musical about us, and 13 years later here I am, still telling my story on stage every night!

Who is your biggest inspiration?
Miss Piggy is definitely one of my idols, she has had a career I could only dream of. Actress, singer, style icon, she’s done everything!

What’s your favourite thing about touring the show?
I’m really loving the UK right now. Being on tour, it’s really fun to see all the amazing things England has to offer! Countryside, sheep, fish and chips, tea, rail replacement bus services…

You visited Newcastle on your last tour, what do you like about the city?
I just love the Geordie accent! I’ve been trying to perfect mine, so I might try it out on a few locals. I’m also a bit of a history buff, so might try and check out Tynemouth Castle and Hadrian’s Wall while I’m there.

I would like to be the first person of fur to win an Oscar. Even in 2016, Monsters are very underrepresented in the industry so it would be a huge achievement.

If you were in a band, who would you be?
I see myself as more of a solo artist, but if I was in a band I’d probably be Beyoncé from her Destiny’s Child days. Then I’d get to leave and become a mega star anyway. I can do they whole Single Ladies routine, wanna see?

What are your theatrical ambitions?
I would like to be the first person of fur to win an Oscar. Even in 2016, Monsters are very underrepresented in the industry so it would be a huge achievement.

What do you do when you have a bad hair day?
Well, being a Monster, having a bad fur day is more of a concern! It really does get everywhere. I always do a quick whip around with a lint roller before heading on stage.

What’s it like having someone’s hand in you?
In a strange way it’s kind of comforting! Sarah Harlington, who is an amazing actress who voices me, has had me on the end of her arm for the last 18 months. I think we’ll suffer some separation anxiety at the end of the tour!

Which of your co-workers do you fancy the most?
I don’t think it’s any secret to say that Princeton and I have had a special connection ever since he moved onto the street! He can be a bit dopey at times, but he made me a mix tape once and I think that’s possibly the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me. Ever. Although the tracks he chose are very confusing – ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’… the theme tune from ‘Friends’… I’m not sure what he’s trying to tell me!

What do you do when you’re not on stage? How do you relax?
The best kind of day off would involve spending the whole afternoon in my pajamas watching Titanic! I could watch it over and over again, I really relate to Kate Winslet’s character. And the theme song by Celine Dion makes me cry every time. I’m also currently watching House of Cards, so I’d grab some popcorn and watch about 5 episodes in a row. I do love Kevin Spacey, I hope we get to work together one day!

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
I would like to see myself running a successful Kindergarten school, attended by all the young Monsters of New York. As a close friend, Trekkie Monster would certainly be on the board of trustees. I would also like to see myself married, with children, and a house. Princeton, if you read this, don’t freak out!

Avenue Q is at Tyne Theatre & Opera House, Newcastle on Friday 15th and Saturday 16th April.

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