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    Interview: Going From Online to Onstage Looking for a Hat

    Sam Wilde on the I Want My Hat Back Trilogy

    Think back to the dark depths of Covid lockdown: thousands of parents all over the UK were stuck at home with young children. They had to educate and entertain them, read to them, create – without access to shops or theatre. How on Earth to do that?? Then suddenly one day a bear arrived on our screens and everything changed. The fabulous picture book I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen was adapted as an online puppet show by Designer Sam Wilde and Director Ian Nicholson. Suddenly, everyone was enjoying watching it, and many of the families made their own theatres out of cardboard and scraps from around the house, filming their own stories. Two more fabulous shows followed, as creativity and fun became possible again! 

    Fast forward to this summer, and Little Angel Theatre will now be presenting the Hat Back books not on the small screen but on a full-sized stage. We were delighted to be able to ask Sam Wilde about what we might expect when the bear re-emerges from his hibernation.

    Sam, the reaction to the Hat Back shows in lockdown was simply phenomenal, wasn’t it? Just how widespread was the response?

    It certainly was, I mean, it changed everything! Not only was it seen 400,000 plus times in over 50 countries, but we were best shows of lockdown in The Stage, The Guardian, The Metro, and featured in the BBC and The New York Times. Ian got recognised in the street!

    It reminded me of how important stories and art can be. I’d been working in theatre for ten years at that point and I have to admit had become quite… complacent isn’t the right word, but I’d certainly lost a little faith. When this came along, we were all stuck inside and suddenly there was something NEW, not something big and flashy, not something that took hundreds of people and required motion capture technology, but something new that was made by three guys chatting over Zoom and with whatever materials I found lying around; something you could do too. That felt important. It felt like a declaration of the importance and power of art and the artist at a time when we could all do with a little… new. Then when we announced the next shows suddenly there was something to look forward to as well. Saying that now feels like it’s such a little thing, but at the time, for me at least, it was massive. It helped.

    It looks like you made the original set and all the characters on a shoestring, from cardboard, glue and sticks; was it all really created from such basic items? And is that how people were able to get so involved in the sensation at home?

    Absolutely! I mean, I do tend to have a lot of cardboard knocking around the house. I’ve been making things out of cardboard for years and years. I’ve got two kids and have taken the idea that “they’d rather play with the box than the toy” to the extreme, constantly making them cardboard castles, cars… I made a rabbit during lockdown so they could have a cardboard pet! But I think the first three shows cost £30 in total, and that was mainly postage (I made them in Bristol and posted them to Ian to film in his living room).

    When people started making their own shows, the joy and privilege I felt – it still makes me giddy that I was a small part of that! That was more important to me than the shows were I think.

    Cardboard is such a joy to work with, and it’s become such a big part of my life. I find such freedom in it because you don’t need special tools to work with it; you don’t need to worry about spoiling it as people literally give it away! If you’d have told me back when we did Hat Back that a year later I’d use some old cardboard boxes to do a window display at Fortnum & Masons, and then the year after that I’d take some moving boxes and make puppets for The Globe’s Christmas show… well I don’t know if I’d have believed you. I love me some cardboard. Just like me it’s all about play and questions!

    So not only do you use recyclable materials to create, but now Bear himself is being recycled, and moving up to the big stage! Is the design of the production rather more complicated now? And larger??

    Larger is without question, more complicated, and I don’t think as… simple maybe. So much of the joy of the original shows was that people found it accessible. I’m not about to take that away from the process. It’s not really a show, it’s more an offering. It’s like ‘I’ve done this, now it’s your turn, what can you do?’ We’re not hiding any tricks, everything’s on show: it’s an open book that I hope people read and borrow some of how we did it!

    That being said, we worked out there’s a new puppet about every 30 seconds of the show… so it’s by no means simple!

    And what about the cast? Have you recycled that as well?

    Ha, we do have a wonderful wonderful cast on board. Ian’s going to be doing some of the shows again of course, but he’s going to be sharing the role with the incredible Simon Lyshon, who is a joy to work with! He’s a really brave creative, always there with an offer and an idea. We’ve also got Imogen Khan, who is far from recycled, she’s brand spanking new! She is a recent graduate from Rose Bruford and is just perfect! Easily one of the top ten actors I’ve ever worked with. Everyone should hire her for everything, only don’t, because we need her!

    As wonderful as Imogen and Simon are (and they are!) I don’t think any of us would have felt right without Ian doing at least some of the shows. He’s an inspiring, driven, conscientious creative and a very dear friend. None of this could have happened without him! He’s like the Christopher Nolan of wonderfulness!

    I also just want to add a shout out to Sherry Coenen, our fantastic lighting designer, Tish Mantripp, who worked with me as a puppet maker and Alana Ashley, who assisted me on the project and is a paragon of everything I want to be as a creative: she is moral, thorough, informed, talented and above all joyful – the perfect mix of craftsperson and artist! So often, backstage roles are overlooked in the press and excitement approaching a show and they (we) are such an important part of it all, so I wanted to make sure they were all mentioned!

    Will there be musical accompaniment to the adventures in the wood?

    In the woods, the desert and under the sea! We’ve got the AMAZING Jim Whitcher back, who did the incredible music in the original production. There were times where he’d get the recording the night before it went live and he’d just make magic happen overnight!

    It’s also worth mentioning that when we made the original shows Jim and I had actually never met. We made those shows as a team of three and two of us had never even had a conversation! We have met since, and I’m pleased to say the man’s character and rhythm are just as beautiful as his tunes. I find it impossible to say enough kind things about Jim; he’s just an inspiration and a gentleman!

    This is a trilogy of the books, so are they going to be staged consecutively, one after another, or will you merge the stories into one ongoing tale?

    Ahhhh!! Now that would be telling! You’ll just have to come to see the show and find out!

    One thing that I will say is that Jon Klassen, the author and illustrator, has created three perfect, perfect books, so we’ve tried our best to add only what was necessary to put them on stage. If it’s not, broke don’t fix it!

    You published lots of online activities for the original streamed versions; will they be available for this run as well?

    Not only available but essential! There’ll be activities that are freely available for sure, but what was so beautiful about the originals is that people made puppets and did their own shows. The show lived beyond the four walls of the screen and it felt like we all – Ian, Jim, myself, the audience at home as well as everyone at Little Angel (who are without a doubt the best, most exciting, kindest and most wonderful theatre in the UK! The impact and help they offered us all, not only through Hat Back, but all of the shows and activities they provided during the pandemic should have got them all knighted!) – we all made this vast web of a show together. It felt like a collaboration with the whole planet. This time we’d love to try and get a flavour of that as well. You can make the puppets, bring them along and be part of the show with us!

    I’ve even had a haircut. The amount of people who messaged me after seeing those making videos telling me I needed a haircut was unreal!

    We’d like to thank Sam for taking the time to chat with us about this exciting new production at the Little Angel Theatre, which runs from 21 May – 31 July. The I Want My Hat Back Trilogy is aimed at ages 3 – 6 and runs for approximately 45 minutes. You can find out more about it and how to buy tickets here. More

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    Interview: We Promised To Call Back, Honest We Did

    Ponder Productions’ Can I Call You Back at Peckham Fringe

    We have to apologise to Emily Rennie and Phoebe White, who make up Ponder Productions. We asked them if they would like to do an interview back in April, then someone in our team misplaced the email. We won’t mention names, but they have been severely reprimanded and forced to watch a West Musical as punishment. Ironically, the show in question is called Can I Call You Back?, something we failed to do originally!

    But having finally got back in touch, we were delighted to sit down with them and find out more about their show that is playing at Peckham Fringe 18 & 19 May.

    Can I Call You Back?

    It’s August 2016, one of the hottest summers on record, and Steph hasn’t left her room in two weeks. For the seventh time in eight years, her medication has stopped working. With University looming and big plans to become THE It Girl, Steph has limited time for contemplation. How did she get back to this place? Who CARES about psoriasis, anyway? And will that constant Skype call ever stop ringing? This coming-of-age comedy explores visible auto-immune disorders, female body image, and overcoming all kinds of grief. 

    The show focuses on a woman with psoriasis, an auto-immune disorder. What made you decide to follow that route?

    Emily: I’ve had severe psoriasis for over a decade – it genuinely seemed to happen to me overnight. To suddenly have a demanding auto-immune disorder that affects so many aspects of your life at age ten was tough, and at times extremely isolating. I’ve been a theatre-lover for as long as I can remember, and have always been writing things down. The idea of making a show where an awkward teenager was coping with her illness – amongst other things – was something I’d wanted to do for years but never really had the courage. Then one day I just thought: who else is going to do it but me? So I bit the bullet, and here we are!

    On top of auto-immune disorder, there are themes of female body image. How important is it to tackle this subject and hopefully show an audience that there isn’t one size fits all?

    Phoebe: The debate on how the female body should or shouldn’t look feels like an ever-changing argument I’ve heard throughout my life. I think especially for young people, the pressure to fit in, and be liked, can feel all-encompassing and when you add on the pressure to look a certain way in order to achieve that it can become a dangerous road to go down. I think a show like this one allows the audience to empathise with the character Steph as we see her buy into the beauty standards, however as she begins to deconstruct them it creates the space for audience members to allow that same empathy for themselves.

    Emily: When I first got diagnosed, I was aware I looked and felt very different to all my friends. I’d rake through all these beauty magazines desperately looking for somebody like me. It can really have such a massive impact on you, this idea of ‘perfect’ skin. There’s no such thing! Even now that I’m on medication and look relatively clear-skinned, those things can stick with you. Embracing imperfection is tough in today’s society, but it’s so important, which is something that Steph unpacks during her journey. 

    Is the play aimed at a younger audience due to those central themes or do you feel it will resonate with any audience?

    Phoebe: I believe that the play is able to resonate with most audiences. We tackle grief and body issues throughout the show as well as issues around self esteem. I believe it’s one of those shows that you will be able to relate to on some foundation either having experienced some of these themes yourself or knowing someone that has. To me the show feels very bitter-sweet and nostalgic as it reminds me of all those awkward phases I went through in school trying to figure out who I really was. We wanted to hone in on that tone and include humour and nostalgia to offset the more serious moments. 

    Is Peckham Fringe the show’s debut?

    Phoebe: So we were lucky enough to show it in the Golden Goose Theatre for a two day run back in February, which was very nerve-wracking as it was not only the first time an audience saw it, but the first time we ourselves were able to view it on a stage rather than a living room which had been our working rehearsal space. It was great to see such a warm and positive reaction from the audience and then be given this second opportunity. 

    And this festival is rather new, how important are the opportunities they provide to new theatre companies such as Ponder Productions?

    Phoebe: I believe that opportunities like this are the foundations of the theatre world. When you take a chance on a smaller show with a lesser known company I believe it always feels like a slightly more intimate experience. I myself have loved going to see work of new companies, writers, or actors and watched their show grow and blossom. It provides opportunities to get your work out there and a platform to network and to do what it is all us creatives love to do: create. 

    Emily, you write and perform the piece, but hand the directing duties over to Phoebe White – is it important to have someone else add a creative eye that way?

    Emily: It’s absolutely so important! This play wouldn’t be what it is without Phoebe’s incredible insight and input – I couldn’t do this without her! Of course it helps that we’re such close friends already, so Phoebe knows all about the challenges that come with this auto-immune condition, and how important it felt to showcase on the stage. On a practical side I think it’s also so important to have another creative eye on the project, especially if it’s a piece you’ve written. It’s easy to become blase – or even bored – with your own work. Just because we’re so used to it ourselves doesn’t mean it’ll make sense to everyone! 

    You are doing two nights, does that allow you the chance to put on a new show and test it out first before you decide where to take it next?

    Phoebe: The wonderful thing with theatre is no show will be exactly the same. As soon as the audience sits down they become as much a part of the show as the acting and directing. So much of this show is a conversation with the audience so it is imperative to find that rapport with each audience and let them into the world much like you would find the same relationship in a stand up performance. Having done this show before we were able to see any scenes that needed tweaking and it’s been a pleasure to watch Emily feed off audience reactions and try new things on the night that suit that audience.

    Emily: Audience interaction is so fun, especially in the more surreal scenes. On our last performance I ad-libbed…a lot. I’m going to have to actually stick to the script this time around.

    Thanks again to Emily and Phoebe for both their patience in waiting for us to get back to them and for the time to chat to us finally.

    Can I Call You Back plays at Peckham Fringe 18 and 19 May. Further information and bookings can be found here. More

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    Interview: From France. With Love

    Charis Ainslie and Sibylla Archdale Kalid on This Last Piece of Sky

    This Last Piece of Sky is set across two cities, following two young people. The first is Louis, who finds himself in hospital as his family cannot cope with his behaviour, and it’s here he dreams of a girl called Sarah. The second person just so happens to be called Sarah, and she also is causing her family anguish due to her behaviour at school. But what is it that connects the two?

    The play is from French writer Kevin Keiss. But don’t panic, Charis Ainslie has translated it into English for us, and along with director Sibylla Archdale Kalid, is now bringing it to The Space next week. We catch up with both of them in this interview to find out why they think audiences are going to love this play.

    Our knowledge of French theatre is, to be honest, lacking, so we thought we’d ask Charis and Sibylla to give us a little education.

    Bonjour, mesdames… ok, that’s the limit of our French*, but we guess you speak it?

    Charis: Yes, I’ve been visiting France since my early teens and lived there for two years. As a translator, I’m working with it in written form pretty much all the time, and I’m currently working with three French writers so am getting to speak it a lot more.

    So what first attracted you both to this French play?

    Charis: I loved the mysterious feel of it. It’s quite poetic, but it also has a real sense of urgency to it. When I first read it I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen. The characters are brilliant – right from the start I could hear what the characters would sound like in English, and that’s really exciting. I particularly loved the character of Granpy. He initially comes across as a cantankerous old man, always finding fault with his grandchildren. But as soon as the family is threatened, it becomes clear that he’s fiercely loyal and will do anything to defend them.

    Sibylla: The first time I read it I was left with a lot of questions and a lot of images in my head of the key moments in the play; a TV that won’t tune in, a young person’s scribblings on a wall, a family walking to a bus stop. The text is fairly sparse and doesn’t explain itself, so it was a tantalising creative challenge to get under its skin and fill in the gaps.

    How easy is it to translate a play such as this? Do you have to alter much to keep the lyrical flow of the original?

    Charis: The writer, Kevin Keiss, uses language creatively to create the ‘other-wordliness’ of the play and in particular to convey the mental state of the main character, Louis. Louis believes he has discovered the secret of the universe, and his language expresses both his wonder – in flowing, lyrical passages – and his sense of frustration and despair – when his speech becomes clipped and truncated, marked by abrupt hiatuses. The biggest challenge was to recreate that without worrying that it sounded ‘off’ or awkward. Once I gave myself permission to recreate the strangeness of the language, I really enjoyed playing around with the poetry of it and recreating its rhythms.

    The play explores mental fragility in young people, is this a theme that is the same whether it’s France on England?

    Charis: I think it is, yes. Although Louis is depicted as a mathematical genius, there’s a truth beneath that romanticised version of neurodiversity. The isolation. The medical world’s preoccupation with diagnosis. The sense that no-one is actually listening to you and what you have to say – if you could even put it into words. There’s also something hugely relatable in the way Louis’s family responds to him – their concern, and their sense of powerlessness as they try to support him. And after the last two years there’s something universal in the feelings of isolation depicted on stage. But there’s also a sense of solace created by the unlikely friendship of these two young people, without the play ever descending to offer solutions or trite answers.

    Sibylla: I think what’s so compelling about the play is that it’s not clear that it is about mental fragility; is Louis mentally unwell, or is he on to something that the rest of us are too close-minded to entertain? Either way, as Charis says, the resulting experience of isolation is close to the bone at the moment, whichever side of the channel you live on.

    The play is set across two locations, one of which has experienced a military coup, is this based on real events or pure fiction?

    To answer this, it’s helpful to start with Louis’s experience. Louis is discovering – or at least suspects – that the universe does not operate along our accepted notions of space and time. It’s significant that, while nobody believes him, the world of the play confirms his suspicions. We’re invited to believe in a world that could be tomorrow or yesterday, that has echoes of real events but could also be presaging the future. The clues in the play don’t necessarily point to a real place or a given reality but invite us to believe in something we can’t explain. In that sense, we inhabit Louis’s world.

    Have you thought how you plan to portray two separate locations when you are at The Space?

    Sibylla: One of the challenges of staging the play has been depicting two distinct locations whilst also allowing for the increasingly fluid boundaries between them as the story goes on. Technology – a TV, phones – have been a useful way of delineating different time periods, and our design consultant, David Medina Aguila, has carefully designed the costumes to use colour and period details to indicate different times and places. The script itself also helps in this sense, as the tone and energy of the scenes set in the two places are notably distinct from each other.

    Charis: We’re also going to be exploring the connections and porosity between the two worlds through sound, music and lighting. We’re working with a brilliant Sound Designer, Raffaela Pancucci, and a brilliant Lighting Designer, Catja Hamilton, and we’re very excited to see what they come up with! There’s already a strong musical motif in the play: Louis speaks of the genius of Glenn Gould – a Canadian pianist who made a famous recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in the 50s – and there’s a strong parallel between them: Gould was a musical genius, and a very eccentric individual. Music is also an inherent part of Sarah’s family – her grandfather was a classical violinist. One of the most poignant scenes in the play is when the family are forced to destroy their record collection because music has been banned by the regime.

    You’re taking the play to a local school after your run at the Space, what is the reason you wanted to do this?

    Charis: We want to make theatre for young people, and we want to make it accessible to everyone. The Space has strong connections to its local community, and we wanted young people there to be able to enjoy a theatre experience they might not otherwise have – to imagine other worlds and dream a little after what they’ve been through these last couple of years. It fits with our view of what theatre is about more generally. I mean, just this week people are talking about a show that’s charging £400 for a ticket! That’s the polar opposite of what we want to do. So many small theatres are putting on great work – and the Space has an incredible programme: great theatre, great acting and shows that will echo in you long after.

    Any plans for what is next for you, or this play, after this run?

    Charis: We’d love this play to have another lease of life – not least because it’s the first part of a trilogy! And I also have another play by the same writer for younger children that I need to find a home for. It’s about a boy whose father has died, and his quest to remember his father’s voice – aided and abetted by a huge whale, two beautiful golden birds and a family of guinea pigs. What’s not to love?!

    Sibylla: Working with the cast on this play has only whet my appetite to explore this play further; it’s opened up so many possibilities and strengthened my conviction that this is a furiously timely piece of work, so we hope to bring it back to audiences soon. To continue Charis’ children’s theatre theme, I’m also in development with a BSL-integrated devised piece about a female astronaut for 7-11 year olds, which I am co-directing.

    Photos from rehearsals

    Merci beaucoup pour votre temps to Charis and Sibylla. This Last Piece of Sky plays at The Space between 17 – 21 May. The play will also be livestreamed on 17 May, and available for a further two weeks on-demand following the end of the live run. Further information and bookings can be found here.

    You can follow the play’s Twitter account here to keep up to date with any further announcements.

    * We would also like to apologise to our reviewer Jane Gian for suggesting we cannot speak French. Jane is fluent and will be even be reviewing Dom Juan at The Vaults during one of its French performances this weekend. More

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    Interview: Taking a Stroll Down Gutter Street

    Gutter Street on bringing their Street Night to ChewFest

    We had our first walk down Gutter Street last year with Feathers. At the time we weren’t aware of the company, but the play certainly had us interested in future work. We also had no idea about their Gutter Street Nights. But Chewboy Productions were singing their praises during a recording of our podcast, and informed us that they would be taking over the Friday night of the upcoming ChewFest at Lion and Unicorn. So it seemed the perfect opportunity to delve into their world and find out just what it is that they have planned.

    It was our pleasure then to chat with co-founders, Leo Flanagan, Isobel Warner and Josh Barrow and ask, just where is Gutter Street?

    What do you have planned for ChewFest?

    We’re going to be bringing Gutter Street Nights to ChewFest. Our monthly new writing night for musicians, poets, actors, comedians and all manner of artists. We ask five featured performers to create or curate a piece of work centred around one central theme, this month’s theme is ‘Homeward’. We then do a little pub quiz and open the stage for the audience to jump up and share whatever they like on our open mic. We usually host these nights at our spiritual home of Green Note in Camden but we’re excited to travel up the northern line one stop to Kentish Town and bring Gutter Street Nights to the Lion and Unicorn Theatre!

    How have you gone about selecting the five creatives for the night?

    For this particular event we have asked five artists who have all performed with us at some point over the last few years. We usually programme creatives from those who have reached out to us or chatted to us on one of our nights. Our aim with the whole company is to build a community and develop real relationships with creatives. It’s great when someone has come down to one of our nights to support a friend and on a whim jumps up on the open mic, and then the next month they’re sharing their first bit of writing as a featured performer with us.

    Do you help with input and advice along the way?

    We don’t really involve ourselves with the writers pieces. We do strive to get at least one first time writer at every one of our nights, people who have flirted with the idea of writing something of their own but never got round to it. We’re always there for those creatives and if they would like a bit of support or guidance we’re more than happy to help and provide a bit of feedback but really the first time we’re seeing their pieces are when they’re on stage!

    Your own work is all based along your fictional “Gutter Street”, does this mean they are all based on the same dystopian world that existed in Feathers?

    All of our plays and stories do take place in our fictional ‘Gutter Street’ world, but we’ve given this world a very wide timeline of 10,000 years to fill! Feathers takes place somewhere along this timeline and we do have other plays and tales that take place around the same time, but our next story could be 1000 years before the events of Feathers. We didn’t want the plays to be direct continuations or sequels/prequals but anthologies. Individual fables that if you were to watch one on their own you’d enjoy the story presented to you, but if you had seen a few and connected with some of the moral questions, myths and background set up, you may walk away with a different experience to someone who hasn’t.  

    Is ChewFest a great opportunity to get your work seen by a new audience?

    Absolutely! We are all massive fans of the work that ChewBoy put on and when they asked us to produce one of our ‘Gutter Street Nights’ for the festival we had to jump at the chance. It’s also a great challenge to adapt from our regular venue (Green Note) which is so ingrained into the DNA of our nights to the beautiful black box space of The Lion and Unicorn. We hope that our regulars feel the vibe and personality of Green Note bleeding through at the Lion and Unicorn this month and that newcomers get a real flavour of our regular nights.

    And you promise an open mic slot at the end of your evening at ChewFest, is that something you normally do, do you get many takers then?

    We do an open mic at the end of every ‘Gutter Street Nights’ and it’s always such an energetic and exciting part of the evening, because it’s full of creatives who didn’t really expect to perform or share that little poem they’ve had written on their notes app for months, or that song they’ve had in the back of their minds. We’re never short of people who want to get up and perform, especially after watching the first five featured performers. They’ve seen the warm, enthusiastic and vocal response from the ‘Gutter Street Nights’ audience and think ‘I fancy a bit of that!’. We also film everyone’s performances so they can take it away and use it for whatever they like, which as performers ourselves, we know is really useful.  

    Gutter Street Night Audiences

    Our thanks to Leo, Isobel and Josh for their time to chat with us. Gutter Street will be taking over the Friday Night of ChewFest. Further information and bookings can be found here. More

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    Interview: Hopping on the Kindertransport to the Little Angel

    Smoking Apples’ Molly Freeman on Kinder at Little Angel Theatre

    Kinder is an immersive new show for children, hitting the stage of the Little Angel Theatre this May. Set just before WW2, it tells the story of a small Czech-Jewish girl called Babi, who is sent away from her home on a journey to safety in the UK.

    We had a chat with Director Molly Freeman of Smoking Apples, the award-winning puppetry and visual theatre company, who have created this intriguing production, to find out more.

    So Molly, Kinder is about the Czech Kindertransport rather than the more familiar German one. Did they both happen at the same time? Why have you chosen to explore the Czech one?

    The Kindertransport in Germany and Czechoslovakia, took place at the same time, yes. This was all just before the outbreak of WW2, in 1938. The catalyst for this movement was Kristellnacht, where the Nazis undertook violent acts against Jewish people and businesses in Germany.

    A lot of people are familiar with the German Kindertransport, but Europe and the Jewish communities were very connected so word got out elsewhere that these violent acts were taking place. As a result, the British authorities allowed minors to seek refuge and enter Great Britain from Germany and German-annexed territories, which Czechoslovakia fell under.

    We wanted to explore the Czech Kindertransport for a number of reasons. Firstly, there can often be a sense of compartmentalisation with these stories, as in, ‘oh that happened in Germany because that’s where the war started’. But we wanted to reflect that the repercussions of the early situation in Germany had a ripple effect across Europe, impacting and affecting a huge number of people elsewhere. Secondly, the Czech Kindertransport was instigated by Sir Nicholas Winton, a British man, and myself and my co-artistic directors, Matt and Hattie used to live in Prague, so it felt like we would be able to tell this story from a place of understanding, in terms of the locations and cultures.

    I understand you have rather an unusual immersive space for the show. Can you tell us a bit about it and how the audience fit in?

    The space is a freestanding, self-sufficient box structure. The audience are seated inside and the performers play from the outside of the box inwards, through a series of hatches and openings. The set allows us to be completely in control of the show environment and to reflect the visceral nature of Babi’s journey; her excitement, bombardment and, at times, fear of it all. It also means that wherever we take the show, the audience can always have the same experience, whether that’s in a theatre, a community centre or a school hall.

    Smoking Apples are renowned for their fabulous puppetry work: I was very impressed with your giant walking tree last summer! What kind of puppets are in this show? And why use puppetry rather than just do a straight play?

    Ah yes, that was our Arbor, the tree! He’s pretty hard to miss! Kinder uses a combination of table-top bunraku-style puppetry, shadow puppetry and object manipulation. We are a puppetry company but we always ask ourselves ‘why puppets?’ at the start of every show. For Kinder, it allows us to jump backwards and forwards in the timeline of Babi’s story, but the form itself allows us to bring new resonance to actions. Across her journey, the actions that both Babi and the people she encounters around her are magnified and this helps the audience to focus on them as catalysts. When an actor performs an action, you read it as a whole but you may miss the importance of it because it is natural and already in human form. When a puppet performs an action, it is magnified because of the effort and care that has to be taken in order for it to do it.

    Are there any other interesting or unusual production features you can tell us about?

    In Kinder we are, for the first time, using a combination of shadow puppets, silhouette and OHP puppetry to form our overall shadow puppetry strand. This is a fairly new system of working for us but enables us to have a more film-like quality to the work.

    We’ve also taken inspiration from Czech illustrators, such as Miroslav Sasek, to create illustrated backgrounds for the shadow puppetry, so there is additional visual depth there. Czech illustration, as a broad style, is very striking and often warps scale and perception, which felt appropriate as a reflection of Babi’s young mind. We also use verbatim throughout the show, so there are segments of stories from real people who were evacuated on Kindertransport trains. The Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive kindly gave us permission to use them and the piece would be very different without those.

    What themes does the show explore? Presumably, it’s not just a bleak and depressing war story?

    Not at all! Mostly, Kinder is about hope and about how the acts of kindness that Babi encounter along the way really do make all the difference to her; in fact, they save her. Of course, there is difficult content in there and we wouldn’t be doing the story justice if we didn’t cover that, but it’s a tale of humanity, in all its various forms. For me, that’s what’s so compelling, particularly in light of the situation in Ukraine. Despite nationality, despite culture, despite race, despite religion; what binds us is that we are human and if we can hold on to that, kindness will prevail.

    You’ve made a show for older children, age 11-16, which is brilliant to see, as teenagers can often miss out on this kind of really creative, visual theatre. Is Kinder just for schools, or for wider family groups?

    We wanted to make a show specifically for teenagers because as you say, they’re often missed out.  We regularly work with young people, so something the story focuses on is this idea of identity and what that means. Teenagers are often asked to make really tricky calls on their futures; who they are, what they want to be. But ultimately, it’s sometimes OK to not have all the answers, to change your mind, or to just not know.

    We’ve also reflected the age group in the actual construction and presentation of the work. Sometimes shows can feel physically and emotionally very distant, making them hard to engage with. By placing the audience literally in the centre of the action and actively removing the preconceived notion of sitting still and being quiet, we hope that their engagement and investment will be much greater. Kinder is definitely something that wider family groups can enjoy though, and whilst we wouldn’t recommend it for younger audiences, it’s a great show for families, as familial ties are at the heart of our story and you see Babi as a grandmother, revisiting her past with her Grandson.

    What do you hope your audiences will come away with from Kinder?

    As I mentioned, Kinder is a show about hope. There are joyful parts and there are sad parts, but ultimately it is a reminder of all of the things that unite us when conflict tries to divide us. Being sat inside the set, with the show taking place around you, brings a different perspective on the work, one that we hope will resonate with our audiences. 

    I believe the show is going on a journey of its own, isn’t it? Where will your tour take you?

    We’re opening the show at the Little Angel Theatre in London and then we’ll be visiting the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Newark (near Nottingham) before heading on to Harwich Festival. We’re planning on touring Kinder fully next year and will be visiting theatres, schools, festivals and community centres.

    Many thanks to Molly for taking the time to talk to us. Kinder is on at the Little Angel Studios from 12–14 May, and is aimed at ages 11-16. Further information and bookings can be found here.

    The show will also play National Holocaust Centre & Museum 31 May & 1 June, then Harwich Festival, Harwich on 30 June & 1 July More

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    Interview: Face Off with Fight or Flight

    Jess Barton & Ross Kernahan on Don’t Forget My Face

    Don’t Forget My Face was such a success last year when it played at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre that they have been invited back for a second run (17 – 21 May, tickets here)

    The show sees twins Rhea and Jack share everything together, hardly ever apart. But what happens when one of them gets the opportunity to move on, and break that special bond they have always had?

    And as here at ET we aren’t afraid to jump on a bandwagon if we feel it’s going our way, we thought this would be the perfect time then to catch up Fight or Flight‘s Jess Barton and Ross Kernahan, the people behind (and in front) of the show, to find out why we should get along to see the show now we’ve been given a second chance.

    How good does it feel to get invited back to the Lion and Unicorn then?

    It feels great! As associate artists of the theatre it’s amazing for there to be a home for our work, and to have the space to experiment and play with new ideas. David [Bardy], and the rest of the L&U team, have always been incredibly supportive of us and other companies in creating the work that we want to make first! We’re so delighted to be invited back after our last run was jinxed by the Omnicron wave, and for audiences to have another opportunity to join us! 

    The show is about twins – is that something either of you have experience of? Or if not, what brought you to writing a play about them?

    We’re not twins, but we both have siblings, and there are definitely parts of our own sibling relationships written into Jack and Rhea. However we were mostly interested in the idea of two people with near identical upbringings who react to life events unfolding around them in a very different way – there’s also something fascinating in the way we can remember a shared memory so differently! We wanted their sense of shared identity to be put into flux, to challenge their similarities and begin to embrace being different people. Many of us, ourselves included, rely on family a great deal to get through modern life – we think we cannot know anyone any better – and yet these people will still surprise you about who they really are and what they share with you.

    As well as writing the play together, Ross acts (alongside Aimee Kember) and Jess directs; how easy is it to be subjective when you are so heavily involved to be able to see when maybe things aren’t quite right and need a little tinkering?

    We’ve been working together for nearly a decade now – which makes the play’s theme of turning 30 feel all too familiar! – and have learnt to trust each other’s instincts, as they’re usually very similar to what the other is thinking. We also made sure to invite an outside pair of eyes into the room –  our dramaturg, Farah Najib, came in and asked all the big questions to keep us honest.

    What has been particularly enjoyable about making this show ourselves, is the freedom to play and develop the piece as we go. We learnt a few years ago that we really enjoy challenging and interrogating a show and its characters – so we’re constantly learning and finding new things within the script. It’s always a joy when something catches us by surprise!

    For those who didn’t see the show the first time at Lion and Unicorn, what can we expect if we come this time?

    We hope you’ll laugh, and cry, and ultimately be entertained – but also come away with a different appreciation of the people who support us through life! This is a play that celebrates the small moments that exist within the really big ones, whilst also confronting how overwhelming life can be. It was important to us to acknowledge how global events – and the habit of constant media consumption, and seemingly endless doomscrolling – can destabilise a person’s mental health, and how that is a very valid experience. When combined with our own, often non vocalised personal crises such as loss, family tragedy etc it can lead to explosive and mentally damaging behaviour – which you may witness when you see the show!

    Ultimately, this is a play about questioning the version of yourself that you present to the world, learning to live with grief, and figuring out how to challenge the pressures of societal expectation!

    Have you made any major changes from the original version you put on stage the first night?

    Since our last run we’ve been able to step back and look at what worked and didn’t work as well. We never had an R&D session when creating this show, it was put together rather quickly! So our first run was extremely useful in gauging audiences’ responses, and also in revealing things to us that perhaps we didn’t see at first! Since then we have been able to look at the script and address some imbalances, refocus some themes that didn’t get the limelight they deserved, and hone the story down to be what we really wanted it to be. 

    A second run at Lion and Unicorn, so obviously some mutual appreciation between you and the venue. What is it that makes this theatre such a fantastic place to put on a show?

    The London fringe theatre scene is always evolving, and despite the incredible hardships these venues have faced over the last few years the ones that survive seem to be shifting for the better: lower/zero hire costs, more production support, more interest in new work etc – it’s great to see – but these are things the Lion & Unicorn has been doing for years thanks to its AD David Brady. Their motto ‘be who you want to be’ feels very apt – in our experience, we have always felt in complete control of the show when we are in their venue. It’s a wonderfully open place to work, and allows us and other companies to be bold and take risks, which is exactly what theatre should be doing in our opinion. We just feel incredibly lucky that the theatre likes our work and continues to support us in doing what we do. 

    Is this the last hooray for Don’t Forget My Face then, or do you have further plans for it?

    We shall see!

    And if not this show, what do you have in the pipeline next then?

    We have hopes of creating something new later in the year – although what that might be is anyone’s guess right now! We will have to see if the rest of 2022 has something that will inspire us – for better or worse! 

    Our thanks to Jess and Ross for taking time out of their busy day to chat with us. Don’t Forget My Face will play at Lion and Unicorn Theatre between 17 and 21 May. Further information and bookings can be found here. More

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    Interview: Over The Bridge, Into The Shed

    Luke Adamson on Bridge House Theatre and The Man In The Shed

    We’ve not had the pleasure of visiting Penge’s Bridge House Theatre except for one fleeting visit back in 2014! Something we really need to change. But in the meantime, the second best thing to an actual visit would be a sit down with Luke Adamson, who is not only the Artistic Director of the venue, but also the director of The Man In The Shed, which will be playing at the venue from 10 May.

    Let’s start with The Man In The Shed, what attracted you to bring the play to Bridge House, and even to direct it yourself?

    Well, initially I was reading the play with a view to programming it as a visiting show as part of the spring season. As I was reading through the script in the bar of the Bridge House I found myself genuinely guffawing out loud. The humour hits you in the face in the first line and you’re off. Then what I loved was how the depth of the character and the show crept in amongst the humour.

    I contacted the writers saying that I’d love to programme the show at which point they admitted that they didn’t have any idea how to actually produce the show but had the finances in place, so we came to the agreement that we would act as producers for the show with their finances and I would direct it.

    The play is “told through the music of a classic album”; is there one album in play here, or is this a nice plot device just to draw us in?

    There is one specific album that The Man In The Shed wants to tell us ‘facts’ about. It’s one that I’m sure everyone will have heard of, even if they haven’t listened to it. Though it’s safe to say that his knowledge of this album may not be quite accurate, and his ‘facts’ may not be facts, so much as confused ramblings and ridiculous assumptions.

    And of course we do now have to ask, do you have a classic album of choice you would use to soundtrack your own life?

    It may be cliche, but I was introduced to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours as a child. My dad was a big fan and it was always on in the car. I know all the words to every song and once one song ends I could tell you what the next song is before it has even started.

    The play is about a man who finds himself out of touch with the modern world yet clearly feels he is in the right; can we assume our man is very anti-woke? Is the play mocking him or trying to sympathise with someone whose viewpoints are perhaps best left in the past?

    This is what so appealed to me about the play, The Man In The Shed definitely isn’t woke, but I also wouldn’t say he was anti-woke, he’s not your classic, gammony Pie*s Mo**an type who seems to want to rage against, and actively oppose anything or anyone that isn’t him, he’s more left behind. A man who has found himself out of touch with society and with his children, who wants to be able to understand, wants to connect to them and be able to talk to them but the era that he grew up in has left him ill equipped to do so. He’s emotionally inept and, in a way, insecure. The play shows us his yearning to do these things, but also why he falls back on the old ‘blokey’ tropes.

    With the show we’re neither mocking his outdated views, nor asking people to sympathise with them, we’re kind of lifting the curtain and taking a look at the man behind the views and seeing why people might behave in a certain way. We hope that the play will provoke discussion about the fact that ultimately we’re all shaped and formed into the people we are by the society and the world we grow up in.

    And as well as directing this play, you are AD of Bridge House Theatre – what took you there in 2021 then?

    Well I’ve lived in the area since 2013 and The Bridge House Theatre had always been on my radar. When trying to initiate some theatre in Crystal Palace Park back mid pandemic, I was in a Zoom meeting with Guy Retallack – the previous AD of The Bridge House Theatre – who revealed that he was no longer running the venue, so after a few conversations with Guy, he put me in touch with the management of the pub and, as I’d always wanted to run my own venue, I submitted a proposal to them of what I’d like to do and they liked it and the rest is history!

    And what is your vision for what you’d like the theatre to say with its scheduling?

    Our programme features shows from established small-scale companies as well as offering opportunities for emerging theatre-makers. We ensure that all the shows we present are entertaining as well as being what we term ‘socially conscious’ –  does the work say something about the world that we live in? It’s also important to us that all the shows offer opportunities to, and representation of, groups that are traditionally underrepresented in the theatre world. This includes but is not limited to: Working class artists, Artists from the Global Majority, Non binary or gender fluid artists, LGBTQ+ Artists.

    You were previously Associate Direction at The Hope Theatre, how different are the two venues?

    They’re very similar spaces in terms of the fact that they’re rooms above pubs, but that’s probably where the similarity ends. The Hope is a much more edgy space, the pub is more lively and, what with the musical history, has an almost raucous atmosphere. The Hope can also take a few more risks in their programming as they’re a much more established venue. The Bridge House is a very lovely, family friendly pub right on the edge of Crystal Palace Park with a much more chilled out atmosphere. As we’re not particularly well known as a venue yet and we’re still building a reputation we have to be quite canny in our programming in that we need to be able to balance out the edgier, less ‘commercial’ work with shows that have a slightly wider appeal.  We also have more scope for family friendly work and are able to supplement our theatre offerings with monthly comedy nights and spoken word events. Our space is also a little bit bigger than The Hope.

    We’re guilty of only having been to Bridge House once, way back in 2014 – it’s clearly not in the usual theatre heartlands such as The Hope was (no offence to Penge), does this make it more of a challenge on what you programme and drawing in an audience?

    How very dare you!? Penge is the centre of the theatrical universe! (Or at least it will be when I’m finished with it.) We’ve actually found that, unlike The Hope, we have quite a local audience around here. At The Hope we found that the audiences were primarily made up of friends and family of the companies, and people that were interested in the Off West End theatre scene and would travel to visit the venue specifically, but very few people that lived locally would visit the theatre regularly. We’re delighted that we’ve got a very supportive local community and we see the same faces returning to see shows again and again. We’re looking forward to the days that our local audiences are joined by those lovely fringe theatre supporters as they travel out to Penge. In the review of our last in-house production, Steve Coats-Denis said of us “If Under Electric Candlelight is the sublime level of drama we can expect under Artistic Director Luke Adamson, theatre lovers should be getting on that train to Penge!”

    Finally, what else do you have lined up for the coming season? What should we be trying to convince some of our reviewers along to check out?

    We have a rehearsed reading of new play Boys Will Be Boys and then a transfer of five star play A Final Act Of Friendship from The White Bear. Then in June we’re heading into a month of Edinburgh Festival previews and special events for the annual Penge Festival. Further details of our exciting Summer Season will be announced soon!

    Our thanks to Luke for finding time away from running Bridge House and rehearsing for the upcoming show to chat to us.

    The Man In The Shed plays between 10 and 14 May. Further information and bookings can be found here. More

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    Interview: Giggles and Sex, What More Is There?

    Hannah Baker on Banter Jar

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    Here at ET we have all ages covered. And we admit, some of us older members are, occasionally, jealous of those youngsters in our midst who are just embarking on their journey into adulthood. So when we get invites to shows that tell us the show is “a one-woman play about growing up. About sex and giggles” our first thought is “damn these kids”. Then we read on and find “self-harm and busking… For falling in love. And for working out how to love that person when their demons keep telling you to f*** off. Why is it always the kindest people that’re the saddest?” and suddenly we remember being in your 20s isn’t always a bed of roses, it’s full of its own unique difficulties.

    So, having got over the fact Hannh Baker, is clearly one of those youngsters, it is also her show Banter Jar, promising all those things. It seemed like a good time to sit down with Hannah and find out about the play and remind ourselves that life can be tough whatever age you are. But that along the way, sex and giggles is what it is prehaps all about really.

    Your show is about growing up and all it entails; how much comes from personal experience then?

    When I began writing, it was all personal experience. But as the script developed names changed, characters merged, story lines developed and it morphed into the show I have now – a jumble of both experience and new writing.

    Clearly as well as containing plenty of the promised giggles, you tackle some serious topics as well in the play, what can you tell us about them?

    For me, Banter Jar is about a whole range of things mixed together. So there’s not one particular issue that it’s ‘about’. Having said that, I do touch on happiness and love, and finding a way through mental health issues. So if people are looking for a theme there’s certainly something they can latch on to! The mental health issues do bring a seriousness to the story, but they’re also normal, and that’s how they’re treated within the play. But the characters hopefully are not defined by their mental health.

    Are these themes ones you feel are common amongst 20-somethings? Or are you exploring the more serious elements of mental health?

    Again, it’s a mixture. Self-harm and depression are very common in my generation, and so it doesn’t feel such a big deal to talk about it. I also talk about psychosis (a rarer condition) and the responsibility and control (or lack thereof) of another person’s life  – not to say that’s totally uncommon amongst 20-somethings.

    The show includes music and you play the guitar, was music your entry into the theatre then? Have you done some busking as the show suggests?

    I have! Music has always been a huge part of my life. I grew up busking in Coventry town centre, outside Poundland, as I am doing in the play. I went to drama school to study an Actor Musicianship course, so yes music was in part my way into theatre.

    You’re playing at the Lion and Unicorn, what has the venue offer you in terms of support and guidance?

    David Brady, Artistic Director (and also from Coventry), has been a huge help! He expressed interest in my script when I was early days writing it, and has been incredibly encouraging and kind whilst bringing the show to the Lion and Unicorn.

    And after this run, is that the end of the road for Banter Jar, or is this just the beginning of its journey?

    These five days are the longest run I’ll have done of it. So I’m waiting to hear what people think! I certainly hope that this is just the beginning.

    Our thanks to Hannah for her time to chat to us. Banter Jar plays at Lion and Unicorn between 10 and 14 May. Further information and bookings can be found here. More