INTERVIEW: Creating Neverland

Created by Philippa Herrick (composer, musical director and deviser) and Amelia Bird (director, designer and master puppet-maker) The Boy Who Never Grew Up is the brand new production being created for The Old Market this Christmas. We joined these two expert make believers in their puppet making workshop to talk about Neverland, magic and creating a new kind of Christmas show…


So first off, why Neverland?
It’s got everything that’s cool in a story – pirates, fairies, flying, dens, adventures and a setting where you are encouraged to break the rules.

 

How do you create the whole of Neverland with just two people?
Good question!  Neverland is a place that is created from imagination, and so we decided to use ours to portray the best and most exciting bits rather than try and get everything on stage at once. We have some help of course, from a lot of puppets, bits of set and a musical score that will fill the space and give the impression of even more of a world than you might be able to see.

 

When creating a show from scratch – especially one with so many elements – where do you start?
We start with what we want the audience to feel and experience from the show. So for this one we knew we wanted everyone to have fun, with plenty of surprises, a little bit of magic and leave with a feeling of child-like wonder, whatever their age. Then using that focus we found a story that would let us create al these things.

 

Is there anyone else involved in the process or just you two?
We are testing out on some friends, and some children. And actually currently there is a family of woodlice involved as we have sourced the majority of our wood from natural sources! (We hope to have found them a new home before the show starts) But in general it is just the two of us making and performing.

“we wanted everyone to have fun, with plenty of surprises, a little bit of magic and leave with a feeling of child-like wonder, whatever their age. “

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What shows did you see as a child, and how is this influenced by, or different from them?

We talked about this because we were making a show at Christmas time and remembered that we both loved the event of going to a pantomime at Christmas, however it was also a bit overwhelming and has a lot of slightly odd traditions that are hard to understand as a child. We wanted to make something which was a little more theatrically rich, and special for everyone. The shows we enjoyed most as children made you feel like the story was just being told to you.

What characters can we expect to see?
Peter Pan does make an appearance, and of course Captain Hook. We have missed out the Darling children from the original story, but in their place the audience gets to take part in the adventures.

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Are you using only the original story lines or creating new ones?

We have mixed in some elements of the original story and themes, but the way we are telling it is quite different. Some people might not have heard the story before, so we wanted everyone to visit Neverland with fresh eyes and get more involved in the adventure.

Boy-Who-Never-Mermaid-372x608How do the puppets interact with you during the show?
We’ve got a lot of different types of puppets of various sizes and styles. They help us go back in time, and show the more fantastical scenes as well as helping some of the characters appear larger than life.

What can the kids expect from the show?
We want everyone to have a great time so there is plenty for people who like to get involved, and for those who prefer to sit back and watch we bring the adventure to them. Check out our video on how to come prepared for adventure!

What about the Parents?
Exactly the same as the children, because in Neverland there are no grown-ups!

Is there something for all ages?
Yes and as much as possible it’s about everyone enjoying the same things together.

Why is this different from your average Christmas show?
It’s set on a tropical island… which is pretty different. We didn’t want to lose the sense of magic in Christmas shows, but this will be less spangly and more creative.


 The Boy Who Never Grew Up: Sunday 28 December – Friday 02 January (Excluding 01 January), 11am & 2pm, Ideal for ages 4+.

Tickets: £8, Groups of 6+ £6

Book Tickets Now.

 

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INTERVIEW: Dracula’s Creator Mark Bruce

Ahead of DRACULA‘s arrival in December we spoke to the award winning Mark Bruce about vampires, inspiration and adapting a classic novel into a dance theatre piece.


When did you first read ‘Dracula’?

I was probably about 9 or 10. I also read it again in my teens. I have glanced at it since then, but only returned to it properly over the last couple of years.

And what effect did it have on you?

There is something that makes me never tire of it. It is a great story but it also has an elusive magic. I think Dracula opens our imagination and dreams. As a novel its flaws, or simple omissions cause us to put ourselves inside the story. It is a subtle tale and therefore almost believable – especially as it is written in journal form. I also find every time I go back to it there are things I haven’t seen before. The fact that it is not a retrospective historical novel also adds to its feeling of authenticity – it is a product of its time – interested in what was prevalent in Victorian society – the emergence and interest in science, the effect of this on religion. An interest in foreign travel. People’s fears, taboos. The perception and place of women… The story is now so embedded in our minds it is difficult to stand back and look at it objectively, but in attempting to do so, one sees what a strange novel it is… Underneath it all I think it is a story with a human heart.

“it has an elusive magic… Dracula opens our imagination and dreams.”800x500-153-Dracula-farrowscreative

Out of the films you’ve seen, do you have a favourite and/or is there one film you’ve used as a reference for your show?


The two versions of Nosferatu – the 1922 silent version directed by FW Murnau and the 1979 version directed by Werner Herzog featuring Klaus Kinski and Isabelle Adjani.

But I wouldn’t say I am referencing any particular film. Many films capture a magic in their own right, but I have gone back to Bram Stoker’s novel and then allowed some influences to creep in – albeit subconsciously. In terms of colour and ‘horror’ I think there is a Dario Argento influence there – though this is not from his Dracula film (which I haven’t seen) but more films like Suspiria. Interestingly I think an old Tom Baker Dr Who – The Talons of Weng Chiang has had a strong influence, particularly its use of light – or rather absence of – areas disappearing into darkness – and what rests there is our imagination.

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How long have you thought of making Dracula into a dance/theatre piece?

I used to draw comics of it all the time. This is long before thinking of a dance version which I’ve thought about since I started dancing in the late 80s.

And why do you think now is the right time?

There were several things that pushed me to finally get it together. When we performed at Wilton’s Music Hall last year I thought – if you don’t do your Dracula here you are aren’t serious about doing it because this is the perfect venue. I also felt I had some of the cast in mind – at the right time in their careers. In all senses the time felt right. I felt I had enough knowledge to produce something that didn’t fall into all the inherent traps of doing such a well known story.

How did you cast your show?

I had about five dancers already in mind. Then I held an audition.

And what music are you using?

There is no ‘rock’ music in this show – It ranges from Bach and Mozart to Ligetti and Fred Frith, to Eastern European folk music. I have also written music myself and am working with a sound designer.

Who are your collaborators?

Guy Hoare light, design by Phil Eddolls with costumes by Dorothee Brodrueck and puppets and masks by Pickled Image. Make up by Jyn San.

Who’s playing Dracula and why did you think he’d be good in that role?

Before thinking about Jonathan Goddard playing the role I hadn’t decided if I wanted to use an actor or a dancer. The idea of a ‘dancing’ Dracula is tricky – he doesn’t exactly appear like that in the novel. But when I worked with Jonathan I found all kinds of possibilities for choreographic vocabulary – he will bring many sides to the role; the hunter – the wolf, the noble and sinister count, the lonely undead, a malevolent humour, a vicious callous streak and a childlike naivety. Like in the novel – you never know what he will do – how he will respond to any situation.

He [Jonathan Goddard] will bring many sides to the role; the hunter – the wolf, the noble and sinister count, the lonely undead, a malevolent humour, a vicious callous streak and a childlike naivety”

Jonathan Goddard as Dracula, Mark Bruce Company 2013 photo by Colin Hawkins 1

How does your approach to this show differ from other MBC productions?

Hopefully every production is an evolution. I’ll always push it. I’ve made pieces to existing stories before – but this is a first for my company. It is a larger production – both cast and design.

What do you think is an audience’s general feeling towards Dracula as a character?

I think that depends if you’ve read the book or not. It’s interesting when you find how many people haven’t. I think an idea of Dracula is embedded in us mainly through the movies. People who have read the book have all sorts of ideas and questions. He is an enigmatic character with many of the qualities mentioned above. He is often just a presence alluded to – perhaps only a darker side to ourselves. I think people will always fantasize about vampires. The sexual nature of what they do is one of the main reasons for this.

“He is often just a presence alluded to – perhaps only a darker side to ourselves.”800x533-DRAC-egg-351

And have you enhanced or changed his character? Or the story? Or the location?

I might have enhanced the physical hunter/animal of Dracula. I’ve cut or merged some characters also. But I’ve tried to remain close to the book. The love story of Mina and Jonathan Harker is a major through line as is their harrowing journey; as is the tragic story of Lucy and the men who are in love with her. I have also developed a through line for the role of Dracula’s three vampire brides. Almost like a Greek chorus, their journey will sew everything together. Location is very important in the book, but so is time. I’ve put a lot of thought into this with Phil and we have come up with a very stylized and symbolic set. I also have a great lighting designer. The theatres also bring their own sense of location and event. In many ways this is a Victorian music hall show – we are not using any digital effects, it is not a movie. I love these old traditions of theatre – and the era is correct.

Does your production incorporate romance, horror, mystery, imagination – all?

All, I hope. It will also have some humour – something not prevalent in the book, but not in the way Dracula has become a comic figure.

And can we expect the unexpected?

I would hope so. But there isn’t a life sized great white shark in this production…


Dracula is touring the UK this Autumn 2014, and will play The Old Market 02-04 December. Book tickets now.


 

 

 

 

INTERVIEW: A Farewell To Arms’ Creative Team

Ahead of A FAREWELL TO ARMS’ run at The Old Market this month, imitating the dog’s creators tell us how the show came to be. With co-directors Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks, and projection / visual designer Simon Wainwright…


 What drew you to A Farewell To Arms; was it an attraction to Hemingway, the novel’s First World War context, or something else? 

Andrew Quick (AQ): Part of it is pragmatic; part of it is an interest in Hemingway.

Simon Wainwright SW: A lot of it comes down to themes we felt we could explore. Two young people in a pretty extreme situation – war – and that’s been a theme in a lot of our work in the last few years.

PB: Also, with the First World War anniversary, we were looking at the way in which that event was being commemorated. We’re interested in this idea that A Farewell To Arms isn’t really about the First World War. It was written in 1927 and it’s a symbolic novel about the fact that the future isn’t looking too good. About the fact that the First World War didn’t solve anything and actually there’s going to be another war soon. So instead of a commemoration or some sort of nostalgia fest, we see the novel as a piece that speaks about our own generation, about having children, worrying about the future and realising that nothing has really been solved yet.

“instead of a commemoration or some sort of nostalgia fest, we see the novel as a piece that speaks about our own generation…”

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 How have you gone about turning Hemingway’s prose into a dramatic script? Taking on the mantle of its first UK adaptation, no less! 

PB: Normally we make original stories. With an adaptation, it’s working out how the story is actually put onto the stage; it’s about how you turn a chair into a nuclear submarine.

AQ: The book is the book and that’s the basis of the script. Of course it’s been cut down but we are not re-writing Hemingway; we’re aficionados. In some way’s we are staging a reading of the novel – or rather, what it’s like to read a novel and all that you bring to the process of reading.

PB: It’s not the deconstruction of Hemingway. We really like Hemingway and this is an attempt to get at the core of the novel.

We are extremely committed to making interesting work that is hardly ever very straightforward…”

 Your company is known for integrating technology, particularly projection, into live drama. Has this style been a natural fit for A Farewell To Arms? 

SW: We want to tell stories, and use film and video technology in the telling of those stories.

PB: One of the concerns of having a classic narrative like this, though, is the question “why don’t you just do it straight?” In a way what we are doing is straight, but theatre is never straightforward and you can’t do a show like this in a cinematic way on stage, you have war scenes, the question of how you do that and how an audience understands what it’s really about is what we’re exploring.

PB: I think we are very idealistic. We are extremely committed to making interesting work that is hardly ever very straightforward.

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 Audiences might not comprehend quite how much time it can take to create each of your shows. How does your longer creative and rehearsal process you use help to achieve your ambitions?  

Andrew Quick (AQ): Our process is all about layering the material. Simon as the video and visual designer needs time to catch up with the ideas that we have been looking at. We need the time to do some detailed work and then give Simon the chance to go away and digest what we have done, and come up with the next and final phase of the visual look of the show.

SW: We’re trying to find a language that works for the piece. When we work on things in a rush you really see the difference; it risks becoming formulaic. Each rehearsal phase is looking at different drafts of what will be the final piece.

AQ: The process is important to the work. In some ways the final piece is all about the process of its making.

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 In terms of the themes it deals with, A Farewell To Arms is certainly an ambitious project. How have the company tackled at times difficult issues? 

AQ: I think we are obsessed by the big themes and we have been increasingly drawn to the larger stage to explore them.

PB: One of the great things about working with an ensemble company is that we are answering questions that we started asking two shows ago. When you’re working the way we do, you are creating your own symbolic world. One of the concerns is that some of the themes are really transparent to an audience and they are really about how unreliable our understanding of the past is because it’s based on history, which is always based on propaganda and on fictions. Huge tranches of history are just ignored because no one has written a good book about it or made a good film.

Interview: Nick Ahad
Editor: Will Sawney


A Farewell To Arms is touring the UK this Autumn 2014, and will play The Old Market 27-29 November. Book tickets now.


 

 

 

INTERVIEW: Kt Simpson from Copperdollar

Kt Simpson tells TOM about COPPERDOLLAR’s “best house party you have ever been to; great tunes that keep you dancing, unexpected performance from fantastic characters and amazing artwork everywhere!”


She was born on Halloween. Since then, Kt Simpson – performer, artist and director of Copperdollar – has witnessed the exploitation of her birth-night for big business consumerism. Smothered under the now-familiar orange plastic throw away decorations and ‘scary masks’, an authentic celebration had been lost.

“I was intrigued to see where Halloween originated. From British origins, I went on to explore the largest overseas equivalent, Mexico’s Day of the Dead.” Ample inspiration was found to rediscover a much-loved festival.

Kt – stage-name Kat Lil – has played a part in the creation of big outdoor circus and theatre for the past 25 years. Her credit roll includes many prestigious organisations; Circus Zincarli, Bodgit and Scarper, Lost Vagueness (or, put another way, Kt has most definitely been ‘seen in a circus spectacle near you’.)

Wishing to create a big touring show of her own, Kt then set up Copperdollar, an immersive theatre company. Where else could this Hallow’s Eve child turn for inspiration than Mexico’s Day of the Dead?

First commissioned by, and launched at, Glastonbury Festival 2011, Kt compares Copperdollar’s The Back Of Beyond to “the best house party you have ever been to; great tunes that keep you dancing, unexpected performance from fantastic characters and amazing artwork everywhere!”

The company’s management style is strongly influenced by circus, fair ground folk and gypsy. “I looked at the way artists from different practices can cross over and how art-forms can merge to create a really integrated piece of work.”

Kt’s studies (she holds a BA in Dance and Visual Art from here in Brighton) influenced the company to explore “the relationship between audience and performer and ways to challenge the audience’s perception of how to view performance.”

Wanting the show to be magical, Kt insisted that everyone needed to be a character so as to not break the illusion. She told Kat Lil’s back story, then encouraged the entire cast to develop and intertwine tales of their own. Artists, too, were provided visual inspiration; “they went away with collages and images and started to draw things that had been spoken about and create and develop more ideas and imagery to feed into the visual aesthetic of Copperdollar.”

Musically, everything is orchestrated by DJ Marc Stylus, who rocks the dance floor for hours. Marc also works closely with Kt on the technical aspect of the show.

Brighton-based, Kt finds ample local talent for Copperdollar projects. Two of the company’s main visual artists, Jim Sanders and Benedict Sheehan are local. “Their work has helped to shape the strong aesthetic that you encounter on your arrival into the Back of Beyond.” The show overall features a vibrant company of artists, performers, musicians, dancers and DJs, but Kt aims, first and foremost, to support the Brighton community.

Now in its third year, Copperdollar’s activity is ever-expanding. “The Back of Beyond show morphs in scale and shape depending on the venue. It returned to Glastonbury this year, and has been getting bigger and better at each outing. We’ve performed at Brighton Fringe, Mint Fest, the National Theatre’s ‘Watch This Space’ Festival, Bestival and elsewhere too.”

Kt and company will bring the latest incarnation of The Back Of Beyond to TOM The Old Market, Hove on Friday 01 November, 2013. If you are lucky enough to attend – and can prize yourself away from the feast of entertainment – remember to wish its organiser a very happy Birth-Day of the Dead.

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