Fantastic last gig at Morecambe Variety Festival in the spectacular
Winter Gardens.
Watch us get-in in under 4 minutes.

A great review from Morning Star.

4 Star review from the Yorkshire Evening Post!

Lisa chats to This Is Lincolnshire.

Culture Vulture's review of the show at Square Chapel, Halifax.

Captain Mermaid in The Yorkshire Post.

Here's another great article about the show from Culture Vulture.

Here's a great news story on the show from Creative Boom:
What the Dickens? An end-of-the-pier show with a difference.

John has just completed the design for a very successful run of Hansel and Gretel at The Berry Theatre in association with Hiccup Theatre.

Lisa appeared alongside Phill Jupitus in Red Ladder and Chumbawamba's Big Society at Leeds City Varieties in early 2012.


29th March, Square Chapel, Halifax. Box Office 01422 349422

30th March, The Mart Theatre, Skipton. Box Office 01756 706460

31st March, York Theatre Royal. Box Office 01904 623568

13th April, Leeds City Varieties. Box Office 0113 243 0808

16th and 17th April, Bikeshed Theatre, Exeter. 01392667080

19th April, Plough Arts, Gt Torrington. 01805 624624

21st April, Burrell Theatre, Truro. Box Office 01872 246038

23rd April, Artrix, Bromsgrove. Box Office 01527 577 330

Riverhead Theatre, Louth. Box Office 01507 600 350

27th April, Otley Courthouse. Box Office 01943 467466

6th May, Winter Gardens, Morecambe Variety Festival.
Box Office 07776 198332

About Company

We make small-scale touring shows aimed at theatre and cabaret audiences.

We are committed to increasing audience numbers by developing integrated workshops and skills sharing. This reflects a lifelong commitment to promoting theatre skills, raising the profile of our art form and publicising our shows.

John Barber gained his M.A. in Drama and Theatre Arts from Leeds University in 1983, then went on to found the successful Open Hand Theatre Company, of which he was joint Artistic Director for some fifteen years, latterly receiving Arts Council Revenue Funding to produce high quality theatre for young people. In his subsequent career as a freelance artist, he has worked as a performer, puppet designer and animation director in many of the regional Repertory Theatres in the north of England, and many touring companies, as well as four years on the creative team of Green Ginger does Bambi – The Wilderness Years, devising, designing, building and performing internationally. He has taught puppet design at the Institut International de la Marionette at Charleville-Mezieres. John is a Creative Associate of Hiccup Theatre. { Spotlight }

Lisa Howard trained at East 15 Acting School between 1990 and 1993. As a professional actor, for over seventeen years, she has worked in TV, Radio and Theatre. Her extensive and varied theatre experience includes dramatic, comic and musical roles with many Northern Reps and national Theatre Companies such as Hull Truck, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Northern Broadsides, York Theatre Royal, Oldham Coliseum, The Torch Theatre, Northampton Rep, and The Dukes. Lisa has just completed a successful run of Big Society with Phill Jupitus, Red Ladder and Chumbawamba at Leeds City Varieties. Some of this work has involved puppetry and an ongoing professional collaboration with John Barber. As a professional singer, she has performed solo, in bands and duos and in cabaret, nationally and abroad. { Spotlight }

Current Show

‘Captain Murderer and the Morecambe Mermaid’ is a pitch-black musical comedy, created by long-time collaborators John Barber and Lisa Howard, aka Captain Mermaid Theatre Company, in association with The Dukes, Lancaster, with original songs by John Newman-Holden, supported by the Arts Council of England.

This new play presents a collision of Maritime myth with a little-known shocker by Charles Dickens, and explores the real, hard lives of performing ‘Freaks’. After many lurid adventures, a washed-up mermaid ends up in a washed-up side-show, the last resort of a drink-addled Clown and little Tanya, his foul-mouthed daughter.

Captain Murderer and the Morecambe Mermaid is a sinister visual feast, a fast-moving parade of puppets and masks, illusions and projections, Burlesque queens and Freak Show geeks.

It’s disturbing escapism, and you’ve never seen the like...

Come and See the Freaks! All Live! They Defy Science!


“Dirty and weird”

“Ingmar Bergman meets Chucky”

"I saw this at The Lowry...Superb, I've booked my tickets for The Mart Theatre at Skipton - if anyone hasn't seen this I highly recommend it, a fantastic show." Charles Main-Brackenridge.

As fiercely inventive and beautifully entertaining an evening’s theatre as I have seen in a long while, Captain Murderer & the Morecambe Mermaid’s mix of the hilarious and the macabre, the sinister and the sweet is close to irresistible. I don’t think there was a moment wasted, and the audience I saw it with absolutely lapped it up. It deserves to be seen and loved.

Nick Lane, Hull Truck.

We supported the development of Captain Murderer and the Morecambe Mermaid and I’m very glad we did. It’s a great show – quirky, funny and in parts oddly moving. It feels like a very modern show but one which is inspired by more old fashioned seaside entertainment. It is darkly funny and is very skilfully performed – the puppets and performances are very impressive...the show might feel quite out there, but in a very accessible way. It would push some boundaries but I doubt if it would alienate people (though it’s not for young children). So I definitely recommend it.

Joe Sumsion, The Dukes Theatre

Although promoted as a burlesque ‘Captain Murderer and the Morecambe Mermaid’ owns as much to the tradition of the shabby end of the pier or tatty fairground shows. Whatever the genre this is a very funny and atmospheric story told with imagination.

The show is structured so that each of the creators leads half with support from the other. Although essentially a pair of half hour monologues the use of a wide range of storytelling techniques (including slapstick, masks, projections, shadow play, music and, especially, puppets) ensures variety. ‘The Wonder Show’ is a fading fairground in which alcoholic Dad (John Barber) uses a Punch and Judy stall to tell the tale of the cannibal Captain Murderer. In the special ‘ Continental ‘ part of the Show the Morecambe Mermaid (Lisa Howard) gulps pills and sucks on a hookah as she describes the circumstances that led to her exploitation as a ‘ big-titted goldfish’.

The burlesque elements have the effect of a desperate performer resorting to shock tactics to get a reaction. The sense of underlying sadness makes the already strong humour all the more effective. Barber spits out the tale of the Captain with a palpable level of self-hatred. This is how Eric Morecambe might have ended up if he hadn’t got the breaks or had talent. Howard gives the Mermaid enough self-awareness to acknowledge that she contributed to her own downfall and so generates enough sympathy we hope for her redemption.

Puppets are used with great style. Barber and Howard do not limit themselves to using the puppets to increase the cast or just for comic effect but succeed in creating the daughter Tanya and a half monkey half salmon mermaid who have well-defined personalities despite being, well, wood.

‘Captain Murderer and the Morecambe Mermaid’ is the first appearance at the Lowry by the Captain Mermaid Theatre Company. Their return would be very welcome but remember: ‘touching costs more’.

John Roberts, Public Reviews

Future Projects

We have begun devising our second show, working title Neurotica, a fundamentalist farce.

Fiona Penney

Fiona Penney studied acting as a mature student at East 15 Acting School and is now a freelance actor and director. As an actor she worked in theatre, film and TV, including Family Affairs, Children’s Ward and The Bill. She is the founder and artistic director of a children’s theatre company – Great Shakes and divides her time between running the company, devising and delivering workshops in schools and theatres, and directing. She has directed for The Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, receiving the Time Out ‘Critic’s Choice’ for her production of Henry V. She is a regular associate director with The Young Shakespeare Company, recently directing productions of Macbeth, Henry V and Julius Caesar. Fiona has also been a guest lecturer for the Open University – the theme being ‘From Page to Stage’.

Website @

John Newman-Holden

John Newman-Holden spent five years as Musical Director and Composer with Cumbria Youth Theatre and Kendal’s Brewery Youth Theatre. He has taught music in primary schools as well as to young people with special needs. John was the Musical Director and Composer for Roald Dahl’s The Twits and The BFG at the Dukes Theatre, Lancaster; where he works as Production Manager. As half of ‘Applause Theatre’, John writes and publishes musical plays for primary school children. His other musical experiences range from writing music for corporate videos to touring the seedier parts of Europe with a punk band.

Marcus Rapley has been involved in theatre production for over 25 years, firstly building sets and as technician for Open Hand Theatre Co, then as Theatre Manager of Bradford’s Theatre in the Mill. He now lives in Leeds, and runs his own business, MJR Theatre Services, in which guise he has worked for a huge range of theatre and dance companies, club events, festivals and community and youth organisations, and has taught theatre production at several colleges in the North of England and in workshops.

Recently, he has been Production Manager for Red Ladder Theatre Co and RJC Dance, and is now Technical Manager for Seven Arts in Leeds, which he helped to design; but as lighting designer, set designer, props maker, sound engineer or stage manager, Marcus has worked with Opera North, Major Road, Walk the Plank, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Strangeface, Chapeltown Carnival, Leeds’ City Varieties, Sakoba Dance, Yuva Dance, Interplay, Alison Andrews Co, Harrogate Theatre, Urban Angels Circus, Glastonbury Festival, Leeds City Council, the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry and scores more.

Small-scale touring theatre is his passion, the “sharp end, where all that production finally means something; and sometimes even changes lives”.

Lottery FundedLeedsPurple LionThe Dukes


Reflecting our commitment to skills-sharing, we have devised a set of Workshops; as a way of increasing participation, of enhancing the profile of ‘Captain Murderer and the Morecambe Mermaid’, and generally getting people through the Venue doors. We plan to collaborate with our host theatres to promote them, and target local groups, be they senior Youth Theatre, drama students in Further or Higher Education, local Amateur Dramatic societies, or, with an appropriate level of support, adults with Learning Disabilities.

Workshop Photo


This is a 2-2.5 hour ‘taster’ Workshop’ for 15-20 participants. It is designed for those with an interest in puppetry, but no previous experience is required. John Barber has been training inexperienced puppeteers to performance standard for touring and building-based theatre for over twenty-five years, so much of the focus is on confidence-building.

The Introduction is a brief, broad overview of current practise and aesthetic considerations.

The Warm-up is also brief, and focussed, leading into a set of ice-breaking exercises which also serve to encourage physical self-awareness, as the participants animate themselves and one another; effectively becoming puppets.

A training session follows, using very simple puppets, to learn the importance of eyeline, and master basic lip-synch. This provides the participants with the skills needed for the remainder of the session.

In small groups, using more elaborate puppets, the participants develop a short scenario, facilitated by the Workshop leaders. The session culminates in a Sharing of each group’s work, and, time permitting, an informal discussion. Minimum age 12 years.


This is a 2-2.5 hour Workshop for up to 10 participants.

It follows a similar structure to ‘First Steps’, but the introductory section is longer and more personal, with a discussion of different styles and worldwide cultural influences, and a more searching look at aesthetics.

The Warm-up is more rigorous, but less time is spent on basic skills-training.

The participants are split into small groups, but the ‘task’ they are given is more challenging than that of the ‘First Steps’ Workshops. It can also be bespoke: if a participant group has a specific project in mind, then the scenario can be tailored accordingly, with a few hours’ notice. The session culminates in a Sharing, with time allotted for notes, feedback and discussion. Minimum age 18 years.


This is a 2-2.5 hour Workshop for 10-15 participants.

This Workshop can be adjusted according to the level of experience of the participants.

It begins with a physical and vocal Warm-up, led by John Barber and Lisa Howard, and the theatre games which follow are mostly designed to break down the inhibitions of the participants, so that they are able to commit to the masks.

The participants select a mask each, then they are given a set of individual exercises to help them engage with it imaginatively. This leads on to the ‘Mask’ learning to move, and vocalise in character.

The Mask explores his/her environment, and various objects.

The Mask encounters other Masks.

The session ends with a Cool-down, and an informal discussion in which the participants are encouraged to reflect on the experience. Minimum age 16 years.

Workshop Photo

Contact Lisa Howard
Contact John Barber