A Brief Overview

“Funny Wonders was hatched around the Agnew kitchen table during the mid 1990s. It came into being as a way of supporting various puppet-centric fun and games with the Agnew kids and their friends. Our inaugural event was on 4th July 1998. Many strange monsters started performing monstrously and that was just the proto-Youth Group. Fortunately, the puppets took over and order was restored. A magical symbiosis of people, puppets and performance came about which has flourished and evolved (I was about to say ‘from the prime-evil slime’ but I thought this reflected badly on the kitchen table).”

Doug Agnew 

In 2000, Funny Wonders became a voluntary group and a Community Interest Company in 2009. Since 1998, it has run a varied programme of activities focused on puppetry and music developing theatre productions, running workshops, getting involved with community events, developing the Buxton Puppet Festival in 2003 and linking with puppet groups from Japan and India from 2005.

A More Indepth Summary

Part 1: How It All Began

written by Chris Agnew

The phone rang one evening in the our Household. ‘How would you like to set up a new Drama group in Buxton?’ Hmmmmmmmm….it’s a thought – I thought. But why a drama group – why not puppetry? I had spent many years developing puppetry projects in the strangest of places – and our own home was as strange a place as any. We had recently created a little workshop in the middle of the house. Our kitchen table was big enough to work on and the kitchen itself could even hold a small performance for family and friends. So why not! So we did.

I cannot remember exactly when we started. But I do remember strange and wonderful creatures emerging from the workshops – particularly the Wula Wulas and a General – magical folk made by magical folk. Our very first production was in our kitchen for Halloween – ‘Witches, Wizards and Wula Wulas’ (well – we had to get them in somewhere!) The performance was actually called ‘The A to Z of Aliens’ and who could forget the dramatic descent from the shadow space-ship of a little green man to the strains of the 2001 Space Odyssey music. We followed this triumph with a Shadow Puppet Nativity at Poole’s Cavern. Funny and wonderful times.

The name Funny Wonders came from Doug’s teaching assistant who, with her big family, used to say ‘You can do funny wonders with a pound of mince’ – an old Derbyshire saying for ‘miracle.’ Well, we have done ‘funny wonders’ with cardboard, cellophane, feathers, milk bottles, scraps of fabric and the wonderful imaginations of all the children and young people with whom we have worked.


Part 2: The Next Stage

We initially established Funny Wonders by making small-scale puppets around our kitchen table – a very homely arrangement that got us started. However, it did limit the number of people who could be involved. So, for the next stage of development a new larger-scale project was developed.

In 2000, we established a properly constituted voluntary organisation with its own management committee and took our work into the community and Buxton Carnival with M.A.S.S.I.V.E. – a project about happiness and involving a large elephant.


Part 3: Bigger and Better

The M.A.S.S.I.V.E. project introduced Funny Wonders to the wider community, generating more interest in our activities and increasing the number of people who wanted to become involved. So, over the next few years, we developed a range of projects for children and young people to include:

  • Saturday and after-school puppet-making workshops at St Anne’s School

  • Artists-in-Residence projects at Buxton Community School during which puppets were made for Buxton Carnival parades and the Buxton Opera House Children’s Festival

  • Residential puppetry weekend at Losehill Hall

  • Partnering with Buxton Opera House to present the annual Buxton Puppet Festival, by running workshops and performing

It was during the Puppet Festival that our fruitful relationship with Japanese Puppet-master, Nori Sawa, developed. Nori’s unique style of puppetry, which is a fusion of traditional Japanese and European techniques, was particularly well-suited to the rather zany, ‘off-the-wall’ puppetry that the young members of Funny Wonders were exploring. Funny Wonders Youth Group was established to support the increasing numbers of young people who wanted to become involved in our work – particularly when the opportunity for an international exchange project with Sapporo, Japan became a reality.

We acquired a studio in Spring Gardens and became “part of a creative ambience contributing gnomic utterances as the spirit moves; indeed, the whole scene was somewhat reminiscent of Hogwarts. The muggles of Spring Gardens seemed unaware that the service yard was in fact a Quidditch Court.” Doug Agnew

At the studio, we planned projects, created shows with our youth group, made puppets and drank tea.


Part 4: International

In 2005, through our relationship with Japanese, master puppeteer Nori Sawa, we hosted a group of young people from the Yamabiko-Za Children’s Theatre from Sapporo, Japan for the Buxton Puppet Festival that year. It began a four-year exchange project with Funny Wonders travelling to Sapporo in 2007 and us hosting Yamabiko-Za again in 2009. You can read more about the exchanges here.

In 2008, we also hosted Anarupa Roy and the Katkatha Puppetry Troop from India. Anarupa and her troop brought workshops, performances and street theatre to the 2008 Buxton Puppet Festival.

Part 5: Professional Development

Between 2010 and 2012, Funny Wonders focussed on developing working opportunities and experience for early-career artists. Funded by The Big Lottery, we developed a ‘MiST’ (Music in Shadow Theatre) show called Transition Tales‘ based on the Japanese folk tale Urashima-Taro. The project helped us to provide professional development opportunities and training workshops and to bring together a team of young, creative professionals who worked together in schools and community events.

Part 6: Community Focus

2012 through to 2017 were difficult years for us at Funny Wonders. During this time, we lost both of our founders, Chris and Doug Agnew. They were literally family to many of the team and life-long friends to the rest. Click the links to read more about them.

Particularly from 2015 onwards, as we rebuilt our team and minds, we operated on a smaller scale and focused on our community work, running workshops at local events and short-term projects with local groups such as the Buxton Drama League and Poole’s Cavern.

Part 7: Changing Faces & Flowerpots

In 2017, whilst still operating with a smaller team, we began running a larger, long-term project ‘Changing Faces’ which morphed from our puppet club workshops. The project aims to support young people in Buxton who face daily difficulties.

After supporting the Buxton Town Team for a few years, in 2019, we took over running the Buxton Flowerpot Trail project which runs alongside their Buxton in Bloom project. It’s a little bit silly and a little bit fun, so therefore right up our street!

Unbelievably, July 2018 marked our twentieth year since our official first event! We endeavour to continue to bring creative opportunities to our local community and work in a way which Chris and Doug believed in. We hope to continue their legacy for many more years. If you would like to be involved and help us do that, please get in touch!