Are you ready for this jelly?

Private View Plunge Theatre

Making their way to The Marlowe Studio soon are Plunge Theatre with Private View. This powerful feminist comedy explores the rituals we go through in a futile pursuit of perfection, and how women (and men) are judged. It’s had great responses at Edinburgh Fringe Festival and in London, and has been recomended by both The Guardian and Elle Magazine. Now, the Plunge girls come to Canterbury. So, are you ready for this jelly?

When people ask us why we made Private View they get more than they bargained for, because, at this stage we know it better than we know ourselves.

Private View is about our predicament as three young women, do I wax or do I shave? Am I sexy? Jesus, where does that go?

Underneath the humour of the piece bubbles the raging discomfort we, and women everywhere, are forced to feel every day. From patronising protein ads to the glances your pencil skirt gets you on the way to that meeting – it all boils down to one specific notion: that women are objects, that their only value is in their beauty and that if you’re not quite beautiful enough, you’d better get to work on yourself.

These ideals have permeated our society for long enough. Young people, both male and female, are born porous to this information, it’s damaging them and it’s damaging us. Since 2008 the number of eating disorder patients has increased by 7% every year. Do we really want to be a part of the generation who sat back and let this happen?

At Plunge we don’t know whether or not to laugh or cry most of the time and therefore we present to you Private View: part love song part hate mail, part comedy part tragedy, and all heart.

In the two years we’ve been working on this show the scale and honesty of our audience’s responses has been as unsettling as it has inspiring. Every G&T washed down with tears has been chased by a meeting where we stand excitedly over A3 paper, wielding pink marker pens, so excited we can’t cope, actually just shouting ‘WHAT ELSE CAN WE DO? WORKSHOPS!? PANEL DISCUSSIONS!? LETS GO DIRECTLY TO THE SCHOOLS.’

So, we’re coming for you now. For one night only. We’ll be holding a discussion after the show (we LOVE to talk) and we’ll be planning future workshops too. We’re demanding a space in your theatre, school, heart and soul – because we got bored in the kitchen and we don’t have the right figures for Vogue.

So join us, we’re not here to accept society, we’re here to question it, preferably via chocolate cake and Beyonce…

Private View is at The Marlowe Studio, Canterbury, on Friday 22 May.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time: From Page To Stage

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenberg.

Production photo by Brinkhoff Mögenberg.

In 2003 Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time hit bookshops. Telling the mystery story of the extraordinary Christopher, brilliant at maths but with a difficulty in the day-to-day, it gripped the public’s imagination. Some years down the line, Haddon approached Simon Stephens to adapt the novel for the stage, bringing to life Christopher’s world.

The show went on to become a massive success in the West End and on Broadway. With seven Olivier Awards and, recently announced, six Tony Award nominations (with the winners announced in June), the production now makes it way to Canterbury on a UK tour.

We found out how the novel was adapted, with writer Simon Stephens.

What inspired you to adapt The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time for the stage?

Mark Haddon asked me to write it for him. I was immensely flattered. I loved the book for years and was inspired by it in earlier plays before I’d even met him.  I was daunted by the book’s celebrity and fascinated by the challenge of how one dramatises a novel. I very much wanted to find out what Christopher’s parents looked like and thought a good way of doing that would be to dramatise them.

Mark once described his novel as un-stageable. So, how did you go about the adaptation process?

The innate dramatic charge of his dialogue means his work is eminently stageable.  I spent some time trying to separate the narrative from the prose of the book. I worked through it listing all the events that happened in the story. I then spent some time transcribing the direct speech. I had the hunch that in the direct speech there would be clues as to the book’s dramatic heart.

It was through this that I came up with the idea of using Siobhan as a narrator. She is one of only three people who read Christopher’s book in the novel and her view point is so much like the novel’s readers. I also think that the idea of a favourite teacher is one many people can relate to. She’s a peripheral character in the novel but central to the play.

What do you think the story is about and why does it appeal to readers and theatre-goers?

I think it’s a story about family. I think it’s about what it’s like to raise a child or be raised; to parent or have parents. I think it’s a celebration of the capacity for bravery in the most unlikely of environments. Stories of bravery resonate. Stories of families resonate.

How much did you and Mark collaborate on the stage adaptation?

Hardly at all! He told me I could do what I wanted. He was supportive and I also kept a beautiful distance. He read early drafts and was very encouraging.

Can you tell us something about the staging and why you think Marianne Elliott was the right choice to direct the play.

Marianne has an innate sense of democracy. She combines a fearlessly and ferociously theatrical imagination with a real concern for her audience. She and designer Bunny Christie and the rest of the artistic team committed completely to trying to get into Christopher’s head and dramatise his world from within. That’s what watching the play feels like.  It feels like you’re in Christopher’s brain.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time Canterbury

Production photo by Brinkhoff Mögenberg.

How involved were you with the creative process?

I was at a fair few rehearsals – mainly to offer occasional re-writes and a very few insights into the progression.  But Marianne and her team were so robust that they didn’t need me too much. I mainly turned up late and tried to make everybody a cup of tea!

How do you feel about the show touring around the UK and Ireland?  Are you excited about the fact that the show is opening at the Lowry in Salford?

The whole notion of the tour seems to resonate beautifully with Christopher and his sense of adventure and bravery in the novel.  The book is a road story and we’re hitting the road. That it might start at the Lowry in Salford, so near where I was born and raised means the world. I’m taking sixteen members of my family, including my 94-year-old Grandma to opening night. In fact the show is starting at the Lowry so she can see it!

How did you feel about the success of the show – from the Cottesloe – the National Theatre’s smallest space, to the West End, and on to Broadway..

Well I‘m proud of it. And proud that we never compromised anything to have it succeed. We never tried to succeed with the play: we just tried to tell the story as well as we could. I think that bravery and sense of experiment comes through in the performance and the idea that bravery like that appeals to people is inspiring.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?

I’ve four new plays opening this year. Carmen Disruption at the Almeida in London; Song from Farway by Toneelgroep Amsterdam opens in Sao Paulo; a play called Heisenberg opens in New York and then a version of Ödön von Horváth’s Karsimir and Karoline, that I’ve called The Funfair will open the new Home Theatre in Manchester.

I understand you were a teacher.  How did that inform your writing and how did you make the leap from teaching to become a playwright?

I think both writing and teaching operate from the same optimism. The writer and the teacher work from the assumption that they can make the world better and they can change people. I loved teaching and the kids I taught continue to live with me in my imagination and inspire my work.

I never stopped writing while I was teaching and after a while (in January 2000) Ian Rickson at the Royal Court Theare read my plays and asked me to be their Resident Dramatist. I still see some of the teachers I worked with and occasionally some of the kids I taught.

Who was your favourite teacher and how have they influenced your life?

A teacher called James Siddely taught me A Level General Studies. He was the first person I ever told that I wanted to be a writer and he encouraged me without reservation. Late in his life he came to see several of my plays in Manchester and we would have lunch. That was very special. He remains an inspiring presence in my work.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time comes to Canterbury’s The Marlowe Theatre from Tuesday 12 – Saturday 23 May.

A day in the life of… Marissa Garbo, Programme Administrator

Marissa Garbo, Programme Administrator. Photo by Helene Skoge.

Marissa Garbo, Programme Administrator. Photo by Helene Skoge.

In this series we’re taking you behind the scenes at The Marlowe to meet our brilliant staff team. Previously we’ve found out about Deputy Stage Door Keeper Will MillarCreative Projects Officer Andrew Dawson and Arts Marketing Trainee Nadia Newstead. Now, it’s the turn of Programme Administrator Marissa Garbo.

How long have you been working at The Marlowe Theatre?

I started working at The Marlowe in April 2013 as a member of the Front of House and Box office team in a zero hour and then a full time capacity. I then moved in to the role of Programme Administrator in September 2014.

What does a typical day for you look like?

It’s quite varied, which is nice, and can be anything from liaising with producers of the shows, working out the programme [calendar of booked shows] with the Theatre Director, drafting and issuing contracts, negotiating deals, working on performance schedules and ticket prices with our Head of Marketing, and in the midst of all this replying to the many enquiries that we have come through!

What inspired you to work in theatre?

I had always been involved with youth theatres, drama and dance classes and amateur societies as a child and naturally progressed into doing Drama and Theatre Studies at GCSE, A Level and University.

I originally wanted to go into performing but throughout University I learnt a lot more about the practical and business side of theatre and really enjoyed the process of putting a performance on. In my final year of University I specialised in producing where I got the opportunity to do some work experience and internships with a theatre venue and opera company in London. I then decided that was what I wanted to do.

How did you get to where you are today?

Through getting as much experience in the industry as possible from work experience and internships and trying to learn as much as possible. Working at The Marlowe really helped in giving me the grounding experience and knowledge of how a theatre runs both front of house and backstage. It’s not an easy industry to get into but as long as you persist with it, work hard and keep asking questions, eventually the right doors will open.

What is the best part of your job?

Getting to help decide and develop our programme, and seeing how shows and projects we put on really inspire and give audiences an amazing experience.  That’s what makes the job worthwhile.

And what frustrates you about the job?

There are so many great productions out there and not enough weeks in the year so it’s hard to fit it all in and get the balance right. It’s frustrating when you can’t take something good or make it work.

Outside of work I…

I’m a keen Ballroom and Latin Dancer and attend classes. I go and see quite a lot of shows around London and the South East as well as at The Marlowe.

I also own my own company Laid Bare Productions and produce Laid Bare Cabaret at The Marlowe Studio which has been very successful and is continuing to grow.

Favourite production you’ve seen at The Marlowe?

There are so many to choose from but probably Fiddler on the Roof because the whole production from the set to the actor-musicians was so impressive and it was such a high quality show.

I also loved Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. I’d never found ballet that exciting to watch and then I was completely blown away and moved by it. I couldn’t believe how he had taken this art form and made it appeal to a modern day audience, made the story come alive, and really made you think deeper about what was going on.

And the production you’re most looking forward to?

I am really looking forward to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. I’ve read the book and am really intrigued as to how they have transferred it from page to stage. I have also heard amazing things about the show from friends and colleagues who have seen it.

Any advice for someone looking to get into theatre?

Get your foot in the door by working in a theatre or getting some work experience. The more you do, the more people you meet and the more opportunities arise.

Ask as many questions as you can from people in the industry to try and learn about the different roles and how it all operates. Theatre is a nice industry and people will be willing to give you advice and answer questions. Be tenacious and be prepared for it to take a while. In interviews I advise to be passionate about what you do, have your own opinion and be yourself.

If all else fails don’t be afraid to take that leap and set up your own company and get your work, ideas and talents out there.

Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone

Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone

When I first read about Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone I was so intrigued. This new play tells the story of a mother and daughter: the conversations that they have both big and small, and what that relationship is all about. And yet the roles were played by men.

It’s a hard one to get your head around, but reading the reviews and then watching the show, you realise it’s kind of perfect. It’s moving (several reviews touch on how it makes you reflect on your own family) and it’s just a really gentle, lovely show.

I was excited to hear a bit more from director Selma Dimitrijevic about how the show was created. Read on then watch the trailer to get an insight into this gorgeous piece, coming to The Marlowe Studio on Friday 24 April.

What was it about the parent/child relationship that interested you most?

Probably the fact that everyone has experience of it in one way or the other, whether it’s an actual parent or a parent figure, we’ve all been there. I was really curious about whether I would get on with my parents if we all meet as peers? Would we even like each other? Would we have anything in common, anything to talk about?

Why did you decide to cast two men as the mother and daughter?

We were on tour with a different show for a few months and I kept observing Sean and Scott, both on and off stage, as they were behaving more and more like two members of the family. I also knew I had this play that was done a couple of times in the UK and abroad, and that I really wanted to direct it at some point. So when lovely Jenny Worton at the Almeida asked us if we have anything I’d like to do for their next Festival I sent her the play and just wrote “but played by two men”.

She said she absolutely can’t imagine what that would look like, which is probably reason to do it – so we did.

At each venue you’ve found a real-life mother and daughter to watch the show from a table onstage.  How has that been for them, and for you?

It’s a bit scary, and therefore really exciting. We spent weeks creating this little piece of art, looking at it from all sides, stretching it, changing it, polishing it, and as when we are about to show it to the audience, we ask two people we just met to sit in the middle of it all.

So far, we’ve had a fantastic experience with all the mothers and daughters. I am always amazed how ready all those women are to try something new together. They all say it made them look at each other a bit differently, and talk about things they never talked about before … which is more than I ever hope for.

I missed my chance to do that with my Mum so its exhilarating to see other people do it.

And how did that idea come about?

My partner and then Co-Artistic Director, Lorne Campbell, suggested it. I tried several times to shake off the idea, but it I never managed, and now it’s the thing that makes the show what it is.

Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone is a really interesting and intriguing title. Where did it come from?

When I was first commissioned to write this play, I was really struggling. I just had nothing to say. I missed several deadlines and the director was emailing me weekly asking for a draft and I didn’t even have an idea. I was reading John Steinbeck’s novel East Of Eden at the time, and near the beginning there is this paragraph:

“When a child first catches adults out — when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not always have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just — his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child’s world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.” (John Steinbeck)

I saw that and wrote the play in three weeks.

Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone comes to The Marlowe Studio on Thursday 24 April.

Creating Rebecca: an interview with Kneehigh’s Emma Rice

Kneehigh Theatre's Rebecca, at The Marlowe Theatre Canterbury

Rebecca production photo

Ahead of worldwide acclaimed Kneehigh Theatre bringing us their stunning new production Rebecca from Monday 30 March – Saturday 4 April, we found out more as Al Senter spoke to the company’s Artistic Director, Emma Rice

When you think about it, it was surely only a matter of time before two such formidable women, both with deep-rooted associations with Cornwall, should have joined forces. Therefore it comes as no surprise to learn that Emma Rice, Kneehigh’s Artistic Director, had been planning a new show, based on one of the works of Daphne du Maurier, the author of the immortal Rebecca.

“I’d been thinking about Daphne du Maurier for some time,” she reveals. “Daphne and Kneehigh share a Cornish connection and it felt that a piece based on one of her writings was long overdue. I’d been looking at the short stories when producer David Pugh offered me the perfect apple. “How about doing Rebecca?” he suggested and I nearly leapt off my seat in excitement.”

Nature in all its moods is a constant theme in Rebecca; the ever-changing weather, the sinister woods that flank the driveway to Manderley, the perpetual roar of the sea.

Rebecca is elemental, almost a Greek Tragedy in the way Nature is represented,” says Emma. “If you walk along the beach at Menabilly, one of the models for Manderley, you can almost reach out and touch that sense of the elemental. Daphne must have loved that spot. It’s astonishingly beautiful. Her work is a bit like Cornwall itself – beautiful but threatening as well.”

Perhaps one of the reasons for the enduring popularity of Rebecca, first published in 1938 and still a bestseller, is the book’s refusal to be pigeon-holed in one genre or another. It’s a gripping whodunit and a social satire, a ghost story as well as a critique of the position of women in twentieth century Britain. Above all, says Emma, pointing to this production’s sub-title, it is “a study in jealousy” Daphne was characteristically sure of what Rebecca is and what it isn’t.

“According to her son Kits, it used to drive his mother mad when she heard Rebecca described as a “romance”. She insisted, and this is a direct quote, that it was “a study in jealousy”.

Kneehigh's Artistic Director Emma Rice with Daphne du  Maurier's son, Kits Browning.

Kneehigh’s Artistic Director Emma Rice with Daphne du Maurier’s son, Kits Browning.

There is also something of a fairy tale in the way that the second Mrs de Winter is whisked away from her tyrannical employer to become the mistress of Manderley.

“It’s Cinderella meets Bluebeard,” says Emma with a smile. “But this Cinderella feels that she is not good enough to be the new Mrs de Winter and what woman has never felt the same?”

Rebecca’s status as a classic, read and re-read by millions of devotees around the world, might make the task of adapting it something of a poisoned chalice. But Emma is undaunted.

“I’d argue that people think they know the novel when in fact what they remember is Mrs Danvers the housekeeper and the scene at the Manderley Ball. I felt that the Third Act of the book needed a theatrical overhaul. We have followed the second Mrs de Winter throughout the narrative, only for all those blokes to take over at the end and relegate her to the side-lines.

Working on the show has been fun and straightforward and the du Maurier estate has been hugely supportive. We have moved on from the time of Rebecca’s publication in the 1930s: we’re in a different century after all, so changes needed to be made.

However, I am never disrespectful. I love this period. It’s a bit of history which you can reach out and touch and I feel the link to the 1930s and 1940s very strongly. It is a time of great foreboding, a feeling of unease which you can sense in Rebecca. It was published a year before we went to war and I find the era very evocative. I’m also rather fond of the stiff upper lip. People were like icebergs with such a lot kept below the surface and a tension generated by what was implied rather than spoken.”

Kneehigh's Rebecca

Rebecca production photo.

Kneehigh’s many fans will know the company’s house style, a style that has been applied over the years to a number of classic narratives. How would Emma describe the company’s trademark to a Kneehigh newcomer?

“I always have – and I always will – call myself a storyteller,” she replies. “We use a number of different elements; acting, music, film, design to tell the story and we stitch together a great big tapestry of ideas. Audiences coming to Rebecca will see a recognisable 1938 world but with something of a twist.

Those experiencing Rebecca via Hitchcock’s 1939 film version may be surprised. The movie is confusing because Hollywood couldn’t stomach the idea that the leading man might also be a murderer. When I went back to the book, I was astounded by its detail and complexity. It is also a gripping read.”

On the surface Maxim de Winter would appear to be the romantic hero par excellence, a Prince Charming on the cusp of distinguished middle age. But Emma has been busy probing beneath that elegant veneer.

“Max deliberately gets himself a very young wife who is not going to challenge him in the way that Rebecca did, “explains Emma. “He wants life to be simple again. We talked a lot in rehearsal about Mrs de Winter’s lack of a name. Daphne teasingly says that it was given to her by the father and that it is hard to pronounce. I sense that it might be something botanical – like Floribunda. However, I think that it’s really important that we don’t know her name and that we don’t get on intimate terms with her. In a way, to know her name is to know her.”

Both Rebecca – and to an extent the second Mrs de Winter – fall into a pattern of behaviour which Emma argues has been a common theme in both fact and fiction.

“Why is it that so many female beauties; Ophelia, Carmen, Princess Di, Marilyn Monroe who have attracted the male gaze, have also ended up dead? We seem fascinated by the idea of the female victim. We never see Rebecca and all we know about her is what we hear from other people and I’d take what Max says about her with a large pinch of salt. I’m inclined to judge Max quite harshly: he represents a privileged class who feel they’re above the law.”

What kind of a future does Emma predict for the de Winters?

“They remind me of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, living quietly in exile. To an extent, their roles have been reversed. She is looking after him now. I think she’s destined to have a quiet death, the quiet little woman who can’t quite keep silent.”

Rebecca is at The Marlowe Theatre from Monday 30 March – Saturday 4 April.

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas: From Page To Stage

Photo: Richard Gibbons

Photo: Richard Gibbons

Ahead of the stunning new production of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas coming to The Marlowe Theatre in March, we found out about the adaptation process.

Al Senter spoke to the bestselling book’s author John Boyn and Angus Jackson, the man behind adapting the novel for the stage.

Every writer is different, of course, but one gets the impression that most of the breed like to work within a strict timetable with a regular amount of words recorded within a set number of hours. But the writer John Boyne took a very different approach when he sat down to compose the first draft of his best-selling novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Or rather, he was compelled by the power of his imagination to write in the white heat of creativity.

“The starting point for the novel was the image of two boys divided by a fence,” he recalls. “I knew where the fence was, I knew it was a place no one should be, let alone two children, but I was interested in the journey that would bring them there, the conversations they would have and the necessary end I felt their story would reach.  The idea was so powerful to me that I just had to get started – otherwise I’d have lost the story completely – and I wrote continuously from the Tuesday to the following Friday, which happened to be my birthday.

Of course, it was only a first draft and there would be a lot of rewrites to come but the basic premise came together in a short and intense period of time.  A lot of young people’s literature begins with a child being taken away from a place of safety and this is what happens to Bruno in the book, when he is forced to leave his friends, his grandparents and his home behind.”

Adaptor Angus Jackson is probably better known as an acclaimed theatre director and his productions have been seen at venues including Chichester Festival Theatre, the Royal National Theatre and in London’s West End.  Among his credits is a stage version of Goodnight Mister Tom, another popular book for younger readers. The stage play was produced by the Children’s Touring Partnership, producers also of this first ever stage version of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

“It took us sometime to acquire the stage rights to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas,” he reveals. “It was a bit like turning round an oil tanker. I was keen to adapt the novel and I thought I could see a way of doing it. The fence was such a powerful theatrical idea and, in contrast to the movie which chose to show everything, I felt that we could go in the opposite direction.”

As a highly successful author, John has had no shortage of people eager to adapt his novels for another medium.

“I’ve met various people over the years in that context and I find that I want to be able to trust somebody quickly and I invariably trust my instinct. Meeting Angus felt good to me. As a writer you spend lot of time working on your own and you don’t have somebody to bounce your ideas off. It made a welcome change, therefore, to work so closely with Angus.”

“I remember that we had a very good meeting in the Café Rouge in Tottenham Court Road where we came up with all sorts of stuff,” adds Angus.

“I’ve given both boys – Bruno and Shmuel – the same birthday – which happens to be my father’s birthday,” reveals John. “I wanted to ask the question. What kind of men would they have become, if they had survived?

The subject of the holocaust and the way it is treated in the play will come under close scrutiny. Since the publication of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in 2006 and the subsequent film version, John has had to answer a number of criticisms.

“I don’t believe that there’s ever a time when it’s wrong to talk about the holocaust,” he maintains. “People will often complain that The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is yet another book on the concentration camps, implying that the subject is closed. Then there is the argument that says that if you weren’t there, you shouldn’t be writing about it. But following that to its logical end, eventually there would be no new books on the subject and that would be a mistake.”

34 Eleanor Thorn as Gretel as Jabez Cheeseman as Bruno

How should a work of art treat such a topic as emotive and distressing as this in front of school-age children? The book is currently a school text for 11-14-year-olds and the recommended age for this theatre production is 11+.

“I think that you focus on their sense of injustice,” suggests Angus. “I don’t think that young people should be protected from what happened in Auschwitz, provided that you as the writer or the director, do not sensationalise any acts of cruelty you put on stage. You should concentrate on the story of Bruno trying to understand the new world around him.

“All Bruno or Shmuel want is somebody to play with and somebody to talk to,” continues John. “And it’s really important that the audience cares about these children and the injustice of what is happening to them.”

Given that the boys playing Bruno and Shmuel in the production may only have the vaguest notion of the background of the play, how does a director approach the delicate task of making them understand events of such enormity?

“You have got to talk them through it and you make sure that you talk to them properly,” says Angus. “I think that kids of that age are able to understand the subject and can fully discuss it. In fact, I think that kids can understand far more than they are sometimes given credit for.”

“I think that the boys themselves will be able to grasp the point that the last we see of them is when they are holding hands,” comments John. “The image symbolises the friendship between the two boys, a friendship that is stronger than the hatred around them. And that has to be a good thing. I used to say that I wrote novels for adults and novels for young people but now I prefer to think I write novels about adults and novels about young people, which is a subtle but important difference. The violence in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is all suggested because I didn’t want the book to turn into a horror novel. And I’d like the young people who see the production to use their imaginations and to ask questions.”

161 Jabez Cheeseman as Bruno and Colby Mulgrew as Shmuel

How would John answer those critics who argue that the events of the novel simply lack plausibility?

“There will always be people who turn around and say that this was not possible or that couldn’t have happened. But I have described the book as a fable which I define as a work of fiction with a moral at its heart.  And I’ve always felt that the truly important aspect of a book is its emotional honesty,”

“It’s very difficult for Bruno to understand what is happening and you see what he sees” explains Angus. “The play does exactly what the book does in that it asks the audience not to feel sorry for the characters. Instead it directs us to look at these events afresh and in that way our engagement with what is happening on stage in stimulated.”

John has always enjoyed a lively correspondence with his youthful readers.

“I get a lot of messages from kids, often asking me to do their homework for them,” he laughs. “I think that they are told to do a classroom exercise around the book and to write an essay on what might have happened to characters such as Pavel or Lieutenant Kotler. The children often want to know if these characters really existed.

I remember the boys who played Bruno’s Berlin friends in the film suggesting to me that I write a sequel in which they get together to get justice for Bruno. When I’ve gone to schools to discuss The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, I’ve always stressed to the students that if they have been moved by the book they should move on to non-fiction works that explore the same subject, the biographies and the memoirs. Children need to be made aware of matters of racism and of the hatred of difference. I didn’t want the novel to sound didactic but I’d like the young people in the audience to realise that these issues don’t just occur in the big world but in their inner world as well. In the play, the boys have not yet been corrupted by the world and so they supply the moral centre of the story.”

Finally,  Angus is keen to argue that there is humour in the play, despite its harrowing themes.

“We show Bruno, his parents, his elder sister as members of a normal family and there is always humour in families. It is right that Bruno and Shmuel can be funny and charming at times. My son is eight. He’s still an innocent and his innocent way of looking at the world can be quite funny. Bruno is the same.”

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas visits The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury from Wednesday 25 – Saturday 28 March as part of a national tour, brought to us by Children’s Touring Partnership.

Cirkopolis: The Art Of Taking Risks

Words: Kelly Apter


In an era when new circus troupes are springing up on a regular basis, finding a fresh and interesting framework to hang your acts on is increasingly important.

Right from its inception in 1993, Cirque Éloize have always looked outside the circus – to theatre, dance, film, music – to add flavour to the pot.

“For me, the way to re-invent the circus was to invite people from other artforms,” says Jeannot Painchaud, co-founder of Cirque Éloize, “and that’s still what I’m doing now. To work with theatre directors or choreographers is always fun and inspiring.”

That takes care of the style, but what about the content? With 10 original productions under its belt, toured extensively to more than 400 cities, Cirque Éloize are adept at presenting its acts in new ways.

“That is the biggest challenge,” says Painchaud, “because there are now so many people who do circus and copy each other. They see an act on YouTube and want to do the same thing – they just change the music.

“So in order to try and reinvent that every time, it’s always good to start with a clear idea or story and characters that you have in mind. After that, you can look for the acts or people who fit into that idea.”

When the monotony of the nine to five gets too much, we joke about running away to join the circus. Ironically, Cirque Éloize have done the opposite with Cirkopolis, which is co-directed by Painchaud, and which comes to The Marlowe Theatre in March.

The Quebec-based company (temporarily) set aside their joyful routine of acrobatics, juggling and dance, to enter a cold, grey world where happiness is but a fleeting memory.

Each day, our hero Ashley suppresses his individuality in order to fit in, drowning in a seemingly never-ending pile of paperwork. Behind him, towering images take us inside a powerful machine that crushes his spirit to raise productivity.

Happily for him (and us) a merry band of circus artistes is waiting in the wings to remind us all what life is about. With them comes a burst of colour and exuberance that lights up the stage – and Ashley’s world.

Cirkopolis Cyr Wheel

Painchaud turned to a number of sources to find inspiration for the show. He asked the video designers to look at German expressionism, and the futuristic world of Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, Metropolis. While Painchaud himself was inspired by the 1985 Terry Gilliam film, Brazil and the writing of Franz Kafka.

“That was our starting point,” explains Painchaud, “And then it was about how you emerge from that kind of world and be yourself. To look at the beauty in your life and try as much as possible to be respectful to who you are.”

To bring Cirkopolis to life, Painchaud and the show’s co-director, Dave St Pierre assembled a talented cast of 12 circus artistes hailing from Canada, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the USA.

Cirque Éloize might be known as a nouveau cirque (contemporary circus) but their heart is rooted in tradition. So although during casting, they looked for performers who can dance, act and feed into the creative process, technical ability was the number one requirement.

“We see a lot of people and choose very few,” says Painchaud. “And especially now, over the past 10 years with so many people doing circus – we need to search far sometimes to find a high level of technical skill. But when we take the time to do that, there are a lot of very good people out there, and we love to find those jewels.”

To make it into the Éloize family, performers have to be multi-disciplinary, with more than one string to their bow. So, during Cirkopolis you’ll notice that an artiste is juggling one minute, spinning inside a Cyr wheel the next – or switching between hand to hand acrobatics and the Chinese pole.

All of the company members have spent years at circus school perfecting their skill – usually focussing on one speciality, but accruing others as they learn. Knowing that their colleagues are at the same professional level as them, allows the performers to quickly build up the trust required to literally put their lives in each other’s hands.

Whether they’re fearlessly soaring through the air, climbing high above the ground or wheeling across the stage whilst attempting to catch a club, the element of risk is never far away. For Painchaud, that is a crucial component of what Cirque Éloize stand for.

The European artistic sensibility that defines much of contemporary circus is important to him, but so too is the highly-skilled acrobatics the Russians and Chinese are renowned for, along with what Painchaud calls the “show business timing” seen in America.

“If you speak to older people in the circus world, they’ll tell you that if you don’t have a ring, a traditional clown or a horse then you’re not a circus,” says Painchaud. “And OK, we don’t have those three things, but we do have amazing acrobatics – things that make people go ‘wow’.

“That’s what I’ve kept from the traditional circus – and I think if you don’t at least have that, then call yourselves a theatre or dance company instead. But if you call yourself a circus, you’ve got to have something relating to what circus used to mean. And for that reason, the acrobatics are still number one when I’m casting.”

Cirque Éloize’s Cirkopolis is at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury from Tuesday 3 – Saturday 7 March. We also offer accompanying workshops for schools.