The independent London newspaper

Pottery to be converted into new puppet theatre

Well Walk venue "full of charm and poetry"

17 May, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Zina Drouche

A NEW puppet theatre could open early next year in the heart of Hampstead by the conversion of a well-known pottery.

Producers Zina Drouche and Dylan McNeil have bought the Well Walk pottery shop, on the corner of Willow Road, Well Walk and Gayton Road, and submitted their plans to the Town Hall in a bid for planning permission.  They are hoping to turn a basement area into a small puppet theatre.

The site has a long history as a hub for creative endeavour.

It was home to potter Christopher Magarshack, who had lived and worked there since the 1950s and passed away in January 2015. By around 2001, he had semi-retired, and the place stayed quiet for many years until in 2017, when the Clay Time potters group used it.

They held popular lessons and exhibitions there until it was sold.

Ms Drouche has a background in theatre, having been a costume designer for leading productions in Paris. She and her husband Mr McNeil, who moved to Hampstead 10 years ago, started running puppet sessions at children’s clothing shop Petit Pan, in Hampstead High Street.

Ms Drouche created characters called Petit Pierre and his sidekick Gedeon – two sausage sellers who work on the streets of Paris and get into all sorts of scrapes.

“They were barely promoted, it was all word of mouth,” said Mr McNeil. “It sold out all the time.We had to turn people away.”

But their friends who ran the shop decided to go back to France due to their concerns over Brexit, the couple said.

Mr McNeil said: “We started to look for space to reopen the puppet theatre and found this lovely space. It is full of charm and poetry.”

The basement will also host an after-school children’s cinema on Fridays, specialising in films they might not otherwise see, such as silent movies, foreign animation and stop motion film. The ground floor will be a bookshop and workshop will have its original 1920s shelving, still in situ, carefully restored.

The application has won the support of civic groups including the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum and the Heath and Hampstead Society, who welcome the quirky addition to a New End backstreet.

Despite the property having a number of people bid to buy it, the former owners were charmed by the idea after the couple sent them a detailed presentation of what it was they would like to do. The Victorian building was listed as an Asset of Community Value last year.

Camden Council is set to decide whether to grant planning permission by mid June.

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