Harrogate Symphony Orchestra - serious message behind Muppets link

Actor Hugo Speer and No Strings director Johnie McGlade.
Actor Hugo Speer and No Strings director Johnie McGlade.

By Weekend Editor Graham Chalmers

What’s the link between The Muppets and Harrogate Symphony Orchestra?

The HSO’s summer concert will see them linking up with the creative minds behind world’s most famous puppets such as Gonzo and Fozzie Bear.

The two-part concert on Saturday, June 22 - a children’s matinee and an evening performance featuring works by Prokofiev, Britten, Beethoven, Dukas and Saint-Saens, - is to raise money for the charity No Strings.

HSO conductor Bryan Western hopes the orchestra’s performance of Prokofiev’s Peter & the Wolf will not only break new ground with its use of puppets and a narrator in the shape of actor Hugo Speer, but will also help this worthy children’s charity.

Speer is one of several celebrity patrons who have seen the good work of No Strings on trips abroad.

In the ten years since it was founded, it has created life-saving films for children using some of the world’s best puppeteers in dozens of languages.

Co-founders Michael Frith and Kathy Mullen are renowned puppet designers.

Frith designed Miss Piggy, Fozzy Bear and Animal, as well as iconic characters for Dr Seuss.

He was also an executive director of creative services on the Muppets, and invented Fraggle Rock.

Mullen is a legendary puppeteer, who’s also known for the Muppets but operated Yoda with Frank Oz in the pre-CGI era of Star Wars.

The original inspiration for No Strings came from its director Johnie McGlade who acquired the habit over the year of carrying a dog-eared glove-puppet to war and disaster zones across the world.

Working in emergencies from South Sudan to Afghanistan, Somalia to Angola, in floods, famines and refugee camps,the idea was that the presence of children’s puppets not only put traumatised children at their ease but often had a disarming effect on aggressive rebel soldiers.

Nowadays, he doesn’t have to take the puppet in person so often.

Whether it is teaching kids the signs of an approaching tsunami, how to survive an earthquake or a landmine, about HIV, or even child abuse, the films No Strings produce, engage young minds through inventive storytelling and the utilisation of local languages.

Children attending the HSO’s matinee performance at 2pm are being encouraged to make or bring puppets to join in the fun.

Tickets for both performances are available on 01423 502116 or from www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk